by kate koppy
For Christmas, my friend Kendra gave me The Green Bible, an NRSV translation with additional scholarly apparatus that promises to help the reader "understand the bible's message for the earth." I held it my hands and thought of the many bibles already collecting dust on my shelf, wondering why she thought I needed another one. Some of these thoughts must have shown up on my face (I have a terrible poker face), because she said, "to help you with your work on the Caretakers Committee."
"Ah, yes. Thank you," I said.
As it turns out, this book is the bible I didn't know I needed. It brings together ideas I had gathered from years of reading in a variety of places and synthesizes them with the familiar biblical arc from creation to fall to redemption, from Adam to David to Jesus.
The front matter includes perspectives from several Christian and Jewish scholars and creation-care activists. One powerful message that emerges among these voices is the idea that the creation was not a historical event that God completed in the past, but rather an ongoing process in which we human beings are partners with God.
This creation theology, a theology of our ongoing generative partnership with God, has broad implications for our environmental activism, particularly with regard to the scope of our efforts. A history of Earth Day would show fifty years of well-meaning initiatives and projects in schools and communities--reduce, reuse, recycle; buy recycled paper; bring your own bags; skip the straw; meatless Monday! These initiatives are well-meaning, of course, and they give otherwise busy people an action they can embrace, but too often they miss the bigger picture. These slogan-driven initiatives gloss over complexity as they strive for easy answers and single-action messages.
Creation is a complex process. As Christians, as partners with God in the ongoing process of creation, we are called to stewardship, we are called to wrestle with this beautiful mess we have helped to create. And that means zooming out to view the systems into which our actions fit. On the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent divine creator can see all of the complexity of all of the systems, of course, but you can choose one.
This Earth Day, consider which aspect of environmental activism is most important to you--sustainable transportation, renewable energy, resilient agricultural supply chains, clothing and textile production, industrial materials, waste and compost, urban development--and commit to learning more. Read beyond the single-action slogans and let yourself be overwhelmed by the complexity of interdependent impacts on different groups of people, on wild and domestic animals, on the air and water. When you feel helpless, when it seems too complex and overwhelming, resist the temptation to go back to the slogan.
You are God's partner in this creation process. God sees the whole picture, and other people are working on other systems and even other pieces of your system, you can look for something you can do on the system you care about. You might elevate the voice of an expert in this field or the perspectives of marginalized groups who are negatively impacted by the single-action slogan by sharing their work on the social media platforms you use. You might write to your elected representatives to urge them to consider the complexity of the system you care about. You might push back against rigid calls for total compliance with single-action slogans in conversations with friends and family.
Creation is a complex process, and we are in the middle of it. This middle is messy and the complexity is overwhelming. Know this: you are not obligated to do everything, but you are called to do your part well.
My prayer for us today:
May we get comfortable with discomfort. May we dwell in the overwhelming complexity of many interdependent systems. May we answer the call to educate ourselves about the systems that matter to each of us. May we act with integrity and nuance, recognizing that there are no single-action solutions. May our examples inspire others.