Yes, I intend to revamp this blog. It’s been over two years since my last post, and I’ve gone through many changes in that time. I’ve graduated from art school, I’m married and have a young son (I hope to go into more detail here later) and I’ve embraced a Reformed understanding of Christianity. In the past I’ve written on topics such as veganism, pacifism, anarchism, and environmentalism. Remaining in the situation from which I’ve been called, I intend to continue writing about such topics, but in the light of Scripture through which I’ve been reformed and in the grace of the Spirit through whom I am being sanctified.
Tag Archives: environmentalism
I was walking home from school earlier today when I noticed a piece of litter laying across my path. It was the small daily devotional “Our Daily Bread“. Now, even though I usually find this kind of devotional literature to be pretty shallow, there is something about it that deeply intrigues me. I’m especially intrigued in circumstances like these, where I find it as garbage along the side of the road. So I picked up the booklet, and flipped through to today’s entry. I had to laugh out loud. The title read: “The Wonder of Wilderness” and was written by Philip Yancey. Here is the text of the entry:
The psalmists had an advantage in praise because of their closer tie to the natural world. David began life outdoors as a shepherd, then spent years hiding in the rocky terrain of Israel. Not surprisingly, a great love, even reverence, for the natural world shines through many of his poems. The psalms present a world that fits together as a whole, with everything upheld by a personal God watching over it.
Wilderness announces to our senses the splendor of an invisible, untamable God. How can we not offer praise to the One who dreamed up porcupines and elk, who splashed bright-green aspen trees across hillsides of gray rock, who transforms the same landscape into a work of art with every blizzard?
The world, in the psalmist’s imagination, cannot contain the delight God inspires. “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises” (Ps. 98:4). Nature itself joins in: “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the LORD” (v. 8).
The psalms wonderfully solve the problem of a praise-deficient culture by providing the necessary words. We merely need to enter into those words, letting God use the psalms to realign our inner attitudes.
So now I’m wondering, what am I to make of this strange coincidence? What are the odds that something like this would happen? If I had come across the same booklet yesterday, or tomorrow, it would not have had nearly the same impact. Nor would it if I had picked it up on any other day in the three month period this booklet covers. Only today could this Christian environmentalist, who uses the biblical symbol of “the wilderness” to explore his own theology, experience such a strange coincidence.
But is it really as strange and coincidental as I am making it out to be? Has environmentalism entered into the mainstream Christian consciousness so much so that it has become frequent in pulp devotional literature? In flipping through the rest of the booklet I see nothing else that overtly mentions nature, the environment, or the concept of wilderness. Of course, I am aware that ideological green-washing is creeping ever further throughout our culture and also into mainstream Christianity. Yet, there is something about this experience that remains profound.
Recently I was talking to a friend about feminist interpretations of a biblical passage. She told me that, had I not provided her with such a specific lens to read the text, the passage would be ghastly. That got me thinking. We often forget that we are reading through the lens of 21st century Americans living in a culture that is far removed from that of the Bible. Also, we might assume that any feminist, or environmentalist, or anarchist lens is a reinterpretation of a biblical passage, that it is somehow altering it to make it more relevant for our present situation. Until recently, that is how I thought of the relationship between environmentalism and the Bible. Environmentalism, I thought, was a rather recent ideological innovation, and since the Bible is ancient, it should have nothing really to say about the subject. I definitely thought the two views were compatible, and that one could make a case for environmentalism that was biblically sound, but ultimately that it was more or less a biblical addendum. I thought that the words of scripture could be used and applied to the environmentalist cause, but not that these interpretations were necessarily the thoughts or intentions of the biblical writers. The further I delve into this subject though, the more I am convinced that this is not the case.
Lately, it is becoming easier for me to imagine the prophets as environmentalists. After all, they are the voice of a Creator deeply in love with creation and who chooses the wilderness of the deserts, the rivers, and the mountains as places of revelation.
This past week my girlfriend and I took a trip east. From Michigan, through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, we spent a brief moment in Maryland, and stayed in Virginia and North Carolina. In our adventures, we went for a quick skinny-dip in the Atlantic Ocean, probably under the surveillance of nearby security cameras in the militarized tourist trap of the quasi-police state known as Virginia Beach. We slept on the beach while thunderstorms brewed, went canoeing in an alligator swamp, visited an organic farming community in North Carolina, and spent three days backpacking in Shenandoah National Park.
All in all, it was a refreshing step away from my everyday life in the bustling micro-metropolis that is Grand Rapids, Michigan. I sometimes forget how relatively peaceful the wilderness can be in comparison to the civilized world, and how that peace can affect my mood, thought, and experience. There is a spiritual element to our existence that seems so much easier to grasp within the context of the natural environment than from within the confines of human societal constructs.
It is refreshing also to encounter this same reverence for nature within the biblical tradition. Although the Bible has been used throughout history as a tool to uphold societal norms such as patriarchy, anthropocentrism, and disregard for the natural world, closer examination can reveal sharp critiques of these ideologies and the oppressive and imperial structures that they constitute. For example, the God of the Bible is the God of the Wilderness, which in that specific geographical context often meant the desert. God called many prophets away from civilization, away from the slavery of empire, and into the desert wilderness: Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Israelites, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus of Nazareth. References to the natural world are prevalent in the teaching and parables of Jesus; he called attention to the fig and olive trees, the birds and the lilies (Matthew 6:246-34), and even compared God to a mother hen gathering her chicks (Matthew 23:37)!
Christianity has long been criticized, and rightly so, for its role in colonialism and the oppression of indigenous peoples and their respective cultures. More recently though, some scholars have been working to uncover indigenous voices and traditions within the Bible itself. It is no surprise that often indigenous people and other oppressed minorities have radically different interpretations of the Christian narrative than do their oppressors who introduced the religion. In the essay, “The Bible, Indigenous Spirituality, and the Theology of Babylon,” the author makes the case that the Aboriginal Australians have more in common with the people of the Bible than do white Australians.
Last week, after hiking for several miles, I felt the urge to take off my shoes and rest my feet in a calm, cool stream that was trickling through the mountains. This simple and natural pleasure was indescribably beautiful. It is reminiscent, I think, of God’s call to Moses when he was wandering the wilderness of the mountains in Exodus 3. God called to him from the burning bush, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” This was the point of contact that eventually led the Israelites out of oppression in Egypt and into a forty year period of wandering in the desert wilderness.