Thursday, May 29, 2008

Things that Matter: The Earth

The following can also be found in an audio format at later this summer.

The environment, global warming, pollution is a major topic right now. This could be why you downloaded this discussion. Maybe you think it is a worth cause. Maybe you think it is all politics and a waste of time. Whatever your stance, I think it is important to have a solid Biblical view on how we interact with the earth.

So yes, I’ll bring my own ideals into this because I can’t do otherwise. But I believe that there are both practical and biblical reasons for Christians to lead the charge in caring for the earth. Here is what you are going to get today. Three reasons why I believe you should take care of the earth and then several practical ways you can pull it off. If that works for you, we’ll dive right in.

We care about the earth because it is good for our hearts.

There are deeper issues at work. As usual, one thing always points to another. The way that we treat the planet is only a symptom of a greater issue. And believe it or not, I think it all can be traced back to a garden.

When God formed the earth in the creation story in Genesis 1-2, he was doing so much more than planting trees and carving lakes. He was establishing a balance. He was putting into place a system in which things would work. Humans played an important role in this system. In fact, we played the most important role.

We clearly see in Genesis 2.15 that God put Adam in the middle of the garden to “work and take care of it”. The KJV says that Adam’s job was to “dress it up”. I don’t know if Adam had hedge clippers or not, which could be rather dangerous in the pre-fall state, but it is clear that maintaining the earth is our responsibility.

Of course, we know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve sin and everything goes down hill from there. It is no wonder that tending the earth would get a little more complicated too. The state of the planet is just one of many examples of how selfish and sinful we can be.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say, “Well as long as I can pay for the gas I might as well use as much as I want.” True, people should have the freedom to do what that want with their money. If you want to go out and buy a car that gets 10 miles to the gallon, you have that right. But there are a lot of problems with that way of thinking.

For one, and this will be a recurring theme, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. I have every right to take up smoking. I am an adult. It is not illegal for me to do it. It’s my body after all and I wouldn’t be hurting anyone but me. Although they are crazy expensive, I can afford cigarettes. I hear they make you look really cool, so why not?

Well, because smoking is unhealthy. Because smoking is a bad way to spend your money. Because smoking is gross… and my wife would kill me. It is the same way with the way we handle our resources. You have a lot of energy at your fingertips, and we fight against entitlement everyday. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

The problem is, we value our comfort over all else. My friend Drew Moss, who is a campus minister at Oklahoma State, told me a story that illustrated this perfectly. He spent a year of school studying abroad on a small island named Cyprus, which is in the Mediterranean Sea, just south of Turkey.

He says that the plumbing, specifically the hot water, was not as good as it is in the States and that often he would wake up in the morning to a cold shower. After a few weeks of this, he found that after about 15 minutes, the water would get hot. So, Drew got to the point where he would wake up, turn on the shower, and go back to sleep. Sometimes he would sleep for 30 minutes before getting up and taking a hot shower.

Drew admitted this was wasteful but it was not his greatest crime. Cyprus, being and island, was constantly struggling with a water shortage. Drew now jokes that he could have been singled-handedly driving Cyprus into a drought.

We care about the earth because we care about people.

Drew’s story also communicates this. You shouldn’t be wasteful, I sound like a mom who wants you to clean your plate, because it is bad for other people. Often the poorest of the poor suffer because we hurt the earth.

I’ll touch more on that in a moment but first let me establish something important for our conversation. I recently was invited to join a facebook group called, “Forget about saving the whales, save the unborn children”. I have a tendency to avoid joining stupid facebook groups so I politely declined. It is a little over-the-top but it communicates a common belief with most Christians.

A lot of people think that if you care about the environment you don’t care about people. It is as if you are going to eat nothing but granola, wear Birkenstocks, and sell wind chimes at the farmer’s market as soon as you develop a eco-conscience. But in no way would I ever say that a tree is more important than a person. Trees are important because we would die without them. It’s true, pay attention in biology. But they are not more important than people. We need to stop thinking about this in terms of either/or.

The issue is, remember the balance that was established in Genesis, that damage to our climate can hurt people. Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of this. Though some attempt to debate it, global warming is a scientifically proven phenomenon, and it crippled a major American city. I was there a little over a year ago and it is still not rebuilt in places. There are shopping centers deserted and KFC chains that have weeds growing out of the drive-thru windows. It looked like a scene from I Am Legend.

Another example of our selfish nature can be seen in Peru which is a coastal country in South America. Do you know what their number one export is? It is fish. In fact, Peru exports more fish than anywhere in the world. Ironically, most of the fish caught in Peru comes to America. We take and chop it up, process it, and put it in dog food. Consider just how off balance things have become when there are 800 million hungry people in the world and Fido is eating all of the fish. The truth is, people benefit from restoring balance to the planet.

I could also tell you that this past Memorial Day weekend, Americans burnt enough charcoal to power 20 million homes for a year. Or that people are dying in Africa everyday because they don’t have clean water. In fact, in some areas people have access to less than a gallon a day – we use more than that every time we flush a toilet. Keep flushing. That is not the point. But the point is, you see examples less dramatic everyday. And we are all suffering because of it.

We care about the earth because God cares about the earth.

Our destructive nature hurts us and God because I believe that God cares deeply about his creation. Think about it practically, wouldn’t you care about something that you made and then entrusted with someone else? With this in mind, I can’t help think of what Wendell Berry was telling us when he said, “Our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrible blasphemy”.

Let’s go back to the creation story in Genesis 1-2. Take a moment, hit pause, and read through these two chapters. (Pause) Okay, did you read it? Seriously, I’ll be here when you get back. Don’t cheat! (Pause) There are a few things we can pick up from this text that teach us how much God cares about the earth. I am thankful to a book called For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger for some of these thoughts.

First and foremost we see that God is creator of all things. All things come from him and are sustained through him. We have heard this story so many times that it seldom sinks in like it should. It would do you good to stop sometime and think about the idea that God made the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, each grain of sand on Myrtle Beach, and yes, even Bolivar, Missouri. Each thing was made with a purpose which God spoke into being.

Secondly, God desires to share creation with us. I can’t tell you what a great joy and responsibility this is. Most of our eco problems occur when we fail to realize our place on the planet. In Genesis, some translations say that God put Adam in the garden to “rule over the earth”. Yet this word “rule” does not mean that we have free reign to gobble up all of the resources we can. Rather, God is depending on us to maintain the balance of creation. It is up to us!

Third, we should not be surprised to see that God loves the earth because Genesis tells us he does. Notice each time God creates something; he calls it “good”. All too often we think that we are the only part of creation that God loves. But if you will read back through Genesis, God not only made us on the same day that he made the animals, he also blessed the birds and fish too. We share the same home and food that these animals do. And while I don’t think we evolved from animals, we might be closer relatives than you think.

Jumping ahead in Genesis, the rainbow covenant, after the flood in Genesis 6-9, is not just with Noah. The animals are involved too. Read it when you get a chance.

We also see in Job 38-41 that God is literally the center of the universe. Have you ever heard the story of Job? He has an entire book devoted to him in the Old Testament. You can check it out for yourself but I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.

Job was a faithful man whom God sent through a series of tests. These tests ended up costing Job his house, family, livestock, wealth, and health. The only thing he was left with was a nagging wife who urged him to just curse God and die. Job wouldn’t do this so instead he spent most of his time whining about his situation.

God grew weary of Job’s laments and responded with one of the most powerful sections of scripture. We read in Job 38.1-12:

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt'?
12 "Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place…
You really should read the next few chapters when you get a chance. I think you will be blown away by the vastness of God. Job is reminded, and so are we, of God’s power and might. God reminds us that he knows all of the mysteries of the universe. He created all of the animals that have never been discovered. In Job we see that God is at the center of the earth, he is holding it together, and we should take good care of it. Because it is not ours, it is his.

Finally, and I won’t go into too much detail but I personally believe that God is going to fully restore this planet when Jesus returns. Yes, I believe that heaven will be here. Not in the clouds, but here. A lot of Christian’s response to environmental issues is, “Who cares? God is just going to burn everything up anyway?”

I know what it says in 2 Peter 3.10. But I also know what it says in Revelation 21, that God will create a new heaven and a new earth. John says that a New Jerusalem, our picture for heaven, will “come down out of the clouds”.

I also know that Paul tells us in Romans 8.18 that creation itself was subjected to sin and waits to be restored. God cares about creation, and wants you to care about the planet, because he is in the process of renovating it. The hippies really might be on to something when they tell us that she is the only planet we have.

Steps to an Eco-Friendly Lifestyle
I cringe to say this but studies have shown that your generation is the most passionate and idealistic generation in recent years. Yet unlike the great generations of the past, your generation is the most unlikely to do anything about the causes you care about. Essentially, you talk a big game but then do nothing about it.

This does not have to be the case. You can do something about the state of the planet. To conclude our time, I’d like to offer a few practical steps you can take to make a difference in your corner of the world.

The first, and easiest, step you can take towards an eco-friendly lifestyle involves changing your light bulbs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs, you know, those funny-looking spiral ones, use 75 percent less energy than regular light bulbs. They are about double the price of normal bulbs but they last about 8 to 10 times longer because they can burn for up to 10,000 hours. That alone makes them worth the extra price, even before considering the significant energy savings. You may not care about the money right now, but replacing just one bulb in your house will save you $22 a year.

I remember in high school, meeting at my friend Allen’s house on Friday night to determine how we were going to spend our evening. When we didn’t have girlfriends, our evenings typically consisted of sitting on Allen’s porch racking our brains on what to do. Finally we would get so fed up with sitting around we would hop in the car and drive around, looking for something to do.

Not only was this an insane waste of time, it was also a waste of gas. Even if gas was only 1.20 a gallon, which makes me sound really old, it was still wasteful. I know some of you have similar weekend rituals, and I am not trying to sound like your mom but stop cruising. It is honestly just another example of selfish consumption that can easily be cut out of your lifestyle.

I know this next tip is not going to be popular. Honestly, I debated even including it, but I think there is value to it. I know this because I started doing it three years ago when I first began to care about the environment. Okay, here it goes… you should think about riding a bike to school.

Your natural response is going to probably be, “I rode a bike to school for 10 years and now that I finally have my license there is no way that I am going to do that.” If so, I’ll cope with you. I know that pedaling up to the parking lot at your high school won’t score you too many chicks, even if you do have a sweet basket on the front. But if you won’t bike, consider carpooling with a friend down the street. Just because you both have cars doesn’t mean you both have to drive separate. Remember, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Recycle or simplify your lifestyle. It takes no time at all to put a plastic bottle in a recycling bin rather than just in a trash can. Encourage your school to put up bins in the cafeteria. Think about how many plastic soda bottles are thrown away each day at your school alone. A bin could drastically cut back on the amount of garbage your school produces each week.

Stay away from Styrofoam cups whenever possible because they don’t biodegrade. This is a constant struggle for me because two of my favorite places, Chick-Fila and Jamba Juice use Styrofoam cups. Also, there is nothing wrong with putting a plastic cup in your car and using it at the soda fountains in Taco Bell. Pay for the drink of course. You can’t just walk in and fill up your cup on your way home from school. That is called stealing – which is wrong.

If I run into the store and only have one or two things, I always turn down a shopping bag. If you just buy a CD and a toothbrush you don’t need a bag. Just carry them out. By the way, did you know that we use 100 million bags a year? I know it is not a big thing. But remember, it is about a lot of little things adding up to big things. I know that sounds cheesy but it make sense.

My goal is for you to find the little steps in your life that you can take. If you have further questions about anything, add them in the comments section below. Also, I’d love to see the steps you are taking and hear your eco-stories. Feel free to post those on your “we amplify” profile on the CIY website.

1 comment:

Drew Crisp said...

Good stuff. Eric. Here is a helpful article called "Theology of Ecology" by Matt Krick. You may have already read it and I think he gathers alot from Prediger. Keep it up hippie.