June 9th, 2012 Posted in creation, Earthkeeping, The Body | No Comments »
In my first post about creation stewardship (or earth keeping), I argued that if we worship the God who made creation, in part because of his artistic abilities, then, as admirers of an artist, we should be taking care of his art rather than destroying it. In the comments, Alice asked if we, given the restraints on our time and resources, should be focusing on caring for human beings, the masterpiece of God’s creation, rather than worrying about the rest of creation.
Because we live in a community, and because I know Alice, I can take the liberty to respond with a nod to our personalities. Alice is an extrovert. She loves working with people, the push and pull of working with the mess of a hundred different personalities and moods.
I’m a bit of an introvert. I prefer to work with creation because it’s a lot less stressful than working with human beings. There are no personality conflicts. I don’t have to worry about long toes or navigating the ever-changing shoals of working in community. Creation is a lot easier to work with. It doesn’t talk back, argue, or push back. We can get a lot more done working with non-human creation than with humans. I say, forget humans. They’re too much trouble.
Of course, I say this in jest . . . mostly.
Alice has asked a very good question, one that many Christians have asked about caring for God’s creation. Is it more important to care for creation or to love one’s neighbour?
I believe this question is a false dilemma. In many ways, active creation stewardship is an answer to the command to love our neighbours, those neighbours who share the earth with us today, and those that will inherit the earth from us in the future.
First, earth keeping shows love towards our neighbours today by demonstrating concern about the environment they live in today. Environmental problems affect our neighbours, other people who share the earth with us, particularly the poor. Right here in Hamilton this is evident. When we woke up this morning there was a mild east wind. We live in the west end of the city, and as often occurs with a mild east wind, it was a misty morning. There was also the sharp smell of the industrial activity upwind of us, a little like burnt matches. As we went for our morning walk, I wondered what I was breathing in, and how it would affect our lungs and the lungs of our children.
We only “enjoy” this scent once a month or so. If we lived a little north-east of our home, in the poorest neighbourhoods of Hamilton, the smell would be a constant, so much so that I’m certain I wouldn’t notice it. But the scent is a cocktail of chemicals including sulfur dioxide, a product of the smelting of iron ore for the steel industry that has dominated our city for decades. Sulfur dioxide causes acid precipitation (acid rain and snow), damaging soils and lakes across northern Ontario and Quebec. However, it also affects human health. Our neighbours in the north end of Hamilton suffer from increased risk and severity of respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. In this case, as in many others, harming non-human creation also harms humans.
Second, active creation stewardship shows love towards our neighbours of the future, those generations of human beings who will inherit the earth after we have spent our time on it. How we treat the earth today has an impact on our children, on all future generations until Christ’s return.
How do we know this? Because we are living with the decisions of our forefathers here in Hamilton, for good and for bad. Thanks to the wisdom of leaders in Hamilton, we are blessed to have some of the most beautiful parkland in southern Ontario. The Hamilton Conservation Authority and the Royal Botanical Gardens steward thousands of acres of parkland. These properties provide food and shelter for many of God’s creatures, but at the same time thousands of people enjoy these lands every year, enjoying the health effects of spending time together in creation. I hope we continue to make strides in preserving natural land because it shows we value and respect the needs of all of God’s creation.
However, we are also suffering the effects of poor decisions. Here on the west mountain, Chedoke Creek is, for the most part, completely inaccessible. It does not provide enjoyment to anyone or anything because it is completely covered, wrapped in concrete chains. When it does appear, as it spills off the escarpment just a few hundred metres from our house, it poses a health hazard to animals and humans. It is contaminated with so much sewage that the levels of human fecal bacteria are anywhere from 50 to 1500 times acceptable levels for swimming, never mind drinking. There are no signs indicating the danger, and so neighbourhood children play in the water, even though it smells like raw sewage whenever there is a heavy rain. When I reflect on this, sometimes I feel like I’m living in a Third World nation, with an open sewer running through my neighbourhood.
Chedoke Falls drops out of a storm sewer into a beautiful pool that attracts people to the contaminated water.
How did this happen? At some point in the past, as the west mountain was built up, a decision was made to bury Chedoke Creek rather than to allow it to run on the surface to be enjoyed. Developers tied residential sewers into the creek rather than into sanitary sewer lines. For all I know, our own household sewer line could be one of those causing the problem. It may be my waste flowing down the concrete spillways of Chedoke Creek into Cootes Paradise, where the RBG has been working for decades trying to restore habitat. Undoing the decisions of the builders of the community I live in will cost thousands of dollars. If this work isn’t completed, Cootes Paradise (and Hamilton Harbour, immediately next door) will continue to suffer from high nutrient and sediment levels, impacting the health of all living creatures that live, work, and recreate in it.
Chedoke Creek winds its way through a beautiful ravine. It's easy to forget you're in the middle of the city when you're here.
These are just two local examples of how environmental decisions made in the past affect human health today, both for good and for bad. And in the same way, the decisions we make today about how we care for the earth will affect future generations of humans. After all, the earth is like a womb. It provides us with everything we need for physical health, in the same way that a mother’s body does for a baby in utero. If we alter the environment of the womb God provided for us–this earth– that will affect the health of future generations. It’s our choice whether to make that future environment better or worse for our children’s children.
I hope it is clear that to me, earth keeping is not about forgetting humans and only caring for the rest of creation. Stewardship of God’s creation is about showing God’s love for all of creation, including humans, working out our place in creation, and lovingly ruling over it, so that all of creation, including humans, can be fruitful. We should be working towards a beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9 – NIV)
We look forward to that final day, the Day that gives us hope! It is only on that day that Christ will make all things new, and make this old world new again, a place for all his creation to live at peace.
Originally posted at Intersection, the New City Church blog.