There is a trend in our society to promote or defend environmental conservation efforts by pointing out how they will benefit people, and especially business interests. For example, we are told we should protect barrier reefs because they are natural defenses against tides and hurricanes, as well as incubators for fish that we like to eat. Or that we should turn off our lights and turn up our thermostats because it will save us money each month in our electric bill.
I get, of course, that legislative actions connected to the environment are primarily vetted through a business-first mindset, and that efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions will only pass when they aren’t seen as limiting economic growth. I get that the vast majority of people won’t ever really care about ocean acidification or rainforest destruction or species extinction rates until it affects them personally. I get that it’s the “bottom line” that drives most human behavior in our world.
But we are not most people, we are Christians. And so we know that we are not the owners and masters of our planet, but merely stewards. The Bible is absolute and unequivocal in its direction that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Psalm 24:1).” It simply does not belong to us, and when we degrade it and neglect it and abuse it wantonly for our own profit and petty comforts, we violate a trust that was placed in us by God himself at the dawn of time. The extinction of animals, the acidification of oceans, the annihilation of whole ecosystems…these do not merely bother Al Gore or Sierra Club members. These things deeply grieve the heart of the one who brought them all into existence in the first place.
This issue transcends politics. As Christians, the state and condition of all of creation is our issue. We must love this world like Christ loves this world, and that kind of love is about more than feelings. We can’t simply feel awe at mountain-scapes and coral reefs and call it love, just as we can’t simply feel bad about oil spills and choking smog and call that “loving creation,” either. Feelings aren’t love. Feelings are simply energy. Feelings don’t become love until they reach our hands and become something through our lives.
This weekend at Transfiguration, we will make a few unusual sacrifices in order to give special focus to our role as stewards of the earth, and my hope is that it will do more than create feelings. Sure, we may feel a little discomfort with the thermostat turned up and the lights turned mostly off (both major parts of the 3,382 Kwh of electricity we use on an average weekend, equal to 337.96 pounds of CO2 emitted). We may feel frustration at the lack of coffee (we throw away hundreds of pounds of disposable cups and utensils every year). We may feel a little uncertainty about our liturgy without bulletins to tell us what to do (we use 120 pounds of paper every month). But the point of it all is not how we feel, but what we will choose to do.
What will we as Christians begin to do differently because we know we are stewards of God’s earth? How will we as Christians choose to act in order to honor the goodness of all of Creation, not just the parts that have immediate economic value to us? How will we behave as Christians to push back against the convenience-first, disposable, throw-away culture we live in? How we will love the world like the one who loved it into being at the dawn of time, the one through whom all things came into being, the one whose resurrection we celebrated just last week?