That Dreaded “E-Word”

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Why are we so afraid to talk about the environment?

Last week I unintentionally drove past Edmonton’s dump. Surprised by a big hill in the usual flatness of our Alberta prairie capital, I recognized the dump by the countless garbage bags at the top being “worked in” by heavy equipment. Since this landfill site is almost filled to capacity, most of the heap has been properly landscaped—but the telltale blue, orange, and dark-green bags reminded me of what it is: a mountain of garbage (some of mine included).

If we could scratch the surface of our planet, how many of these piles would we uncover? We hide our trash, cover it, burn it, and even send it to other countries, this “effluence of our affluence” to quote Hubert H. Humphrey. As a thinking Christian person, I am ashamed of my own filth and embarrassed by the amount of garbage I see everywhere.

I encounter continual concerns about the environment (think creation) in the news, on the documentary channel, and in books. I hear many people wondering about crop failure, water shortages, violent weather, rising cancer rates, pandemics, global warming, poverty, pollution, and changing climates. Journalists, scientists, politicians, physicians, climatologists, and farmers are devoting themselves to dealing with the troubles they see. Even presidents and prime ministers are getting together to talk about the sustainability of our economies.

Yet when I go to church it’s like stepping into a time warp.

All discussion of these issues ceases. No one dares to use the “e-word.” Most of our pulpits remain silent about the environment, our newsletters and other publications are quiet, and we drink our coffee—sometimes fair trade, often out of Styrofoam cups—without an inkling that these questions trouble us in the rest of our living.

Does anyone else feel this way? Where is the church on issues of the environment? What about our Reformed worldview that all of life belongs to God? Why am I uncomfortable talking to my Christian friends about how we can do better for our world? Do we think that if we show concern about these pressing issues we aren’t displaying enough trust in God? Or are we waiting for God to come clean up our mess?  

What if, rather than debating the reality of climate change and its probable or possible causes, we simply asked if more pollution, more consumption, and more waste are good for this earth and whether living in a wasteful way is what God expects of us?

After all, who can make the case that mountains of garbage and rivers of pollution are pleasing to God?

Remember When . . .

Less than a lifetime ago, when something broke we fixed it. When our big toe wore through the front of our socks, we darned them. When the fridge or television went “on the fritz,” we called someone to repair it. And more often than not, we saved old, worn-out things to make into new things—real recycling.

How quaint and different from today.

Recently, while I waited to check out at a supermarket, the woman just ahead of me in line asked about replacing the battery in the watch she had purchased only a year ago. The cashier simply told her, “Oh, you can’t repair that. It’s cheaper just to get another watch.”

How sad.

In my grandparents’ day a wristwatch lasted a lifetime, a television at least 20 years, and a telephone almost forever. Today our watches, radios, telephones, even televisions have become disposable items. When they break, or we tire of them when more capable models become available, we dispose of them and get new ones. Very few of us still know how to darn a sock, mend a torn shirt, fix a chair, or repair an appliance.

So our landfills pile up; the earth can barely provide enough petroleum to make all the plastic we demand, recycle, or throw away; and our air at times is so dirty that some of us have to wear masks and take steroids to breathe. Today our junk even reaches to outer space.

What have we been doing? Can we defend our behavior in light of our God-appointed task to care for the earth? Can’t we—especially as Christian congregations and individuals—do better for this planet?

Absolutely.

But where do we start?

Now What?

Well, to point out the obvious, we need to bring the discussion into our circles—talk together about what concerns us and what we can do. Frankly, I’m tired of doing the small things. Like many of you, I’ve already changed all my light bulbs, and I recycle my paper, plastic, and glass. I use rain barrels and cloth grocery bags, clean without chemicals, and buy fair-trade and organic products when I can. Now I want to do something bigger and work with others.

Hesiod, a Greek poet who lived 700 years before Christ, noticed even at that time that “if you add a little to a little  

and do this often, soon the little will become great.” That still holds true today. Combining our individual efforts will bring bigger results. And wouldn’t it be great to work with the biggest community that I am a part of—my church?

Take, for example, the inspiring cookbook More with Less. Published by the Mennonite Church in the 1970s, it began as the idea of one person: Doris Longacre. With the global food crisis as her impetus, she set out to collect recipes that would challenge and help North Americans to eat less so that others could have more. She wrote to her friends around the world, asking for economical low-meat recipes that would help North Americans reduce consumption by eating less animal protein and fewer highly processed foods. Thousands of recipes and ideas flooded in, and the cookbook is now in its 47th printing

—a singular effort that grew with the help of many.

As a church and Christian community we could make significant changes to promote a healthier and more sustainable environment by doing more with less. Consider, for example, opportunities such as the Eat Well Food Tour (www.eatwellfoodtour.com), a partnership between the Christian Reformed Office of Social Justice and *culture is not optional, a nonprofit organization encouraging all-of-life faith practice. This summer the free Eat Well tour will help local churches hold creative conversations about food and faith, discerning ways to purchase, grow, cook, share, consume, and think about our food in ways that honor God.

What Worries You?

Here are a few other suggestions for ways to get creation-care conversations going:

  • Ask children and young adults to tell what worries them about the future.
  • Hold book clubs and Bible studies around books like Earth-Wise or Living the Good Life on God’s Good Earth (available from www.FaithAlive
  • Resources.org, 1-800-333-8300) that can get us talking and thinking.
  • Ask deacons or another point person to be faithful in urging your congregation toward environmental stewardship.
  • Request sermons that help us hear God’s Word on these subjects.
  • Print articles in our congregational and denominational publications on issues related to the environment.
  • Begin or join online discussion forums on creation care such as the one at http://justiceseekers.ning.com, created especially for Reformed Christians.  
  • Develop adult-education presentations about the impact of our consumerism on the developing world, taught by teachers from our colleges and universities.
  • Learn from farmers and market gardeners in our midst about changes in world food production and the impact on world food supply.
  • Learn from other experts who dedicate themselves to alerting us to these problems. (The CRC’s Office of Social Justice has a page on its site solely dedicated to creation care. See www.crcjustice.org and look under Issues.)
  • Promote letter-writing campaigns to let politicians know our concerns.

I suspect that using the “e-word” freely in our times together will grow our faith and inspire our love for each other and for creation. There’s something so connecting about learning and working together on issues that affect life on this planet. Young and old, we share this place together. And as followers of Jesus we’re in partnership with the Sustainer of all life on earth. What an exciting way to participate in God’s kingdom work of redemption and restoration!   

Many Christian Reformed congregations are already doing a great deal when it comes to creation care. The Banner would love to hear your stories! Please contact your local news correspondent listed at the beginning of our regular CRC News section, or at www.banner.org.



Heard Round the World . . .

The Christian Reformed Church is already going global with the biblical message of creation care.

For example, since poverty and environmental degradation go hand in hand, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee appointed an ongoing environmental stewardship task force that looks at how the ministry can better incorporate creation care into its programs worldwide.

Three ministry teams from CRWRC (East Africa, Southern Africa, and Asia) held Bible-based environmental stewardship training with their staff and partners this past year, reports Steve Michmerhuizen, a CRWRC program consultant in Tanzania who helped to facilitate the training. “This represents a serious step forward on the part of our fields to recognize that we, as Christians, have a particular call to stewardship,” he said. “And as Reformed Christians we recognize a call to stewardship of resources in order that those resources might be redeemed for God’s glory and move us closer to shalom and [God’s] coming kingdom.”

Christian Reformed World Missions partners with the Timothy Institute to train Christian leaders around the world. That curriculum, developed in cooperation with Calvin Theological Seminary, includes a unit on “Stewardship” with a creation care component. Joel Hogan, director of international ministries for World Missions, says it is having a significant impact in helping pastors and lay leaders understand the mandate to care for creation. The training is currently used all over Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

A new, expanded partnership with Mission India is expected to reach more than 1,000 church planters in India alone. “The impact of the teaching truly has global impact,” Hogan says.

About the Author

Brian and Carmen Los are members of West End Christian Reformed Church, Edmonton, Alberta. Happy to live in a geothermal home, they enjoy learning about new ideas for living sustainably.

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