Learning to Talk About Climate Questions Like A Sage
Editor’s note: The topic of climate change can stir heated (pun intended) debate. If we don’t believe things are as dire as many experts say, we may dismiss those who see things differently than us. On the other hand, if we think our world’s environment is heading in a dangerous direction, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the complexity of possible solutions.
No matter where you land on the spectrum of opinion on this subject, you can ground your thoughts and responses in a couple of essential realities as you seek to grow in wisdom:
This month’s issue will offer a couple of perspectives from our Sage Forum writers. We value their willingness to ponder the questions, and stretch our thinking on the subject. We also have a roundup of great media picks that may help you fill in the last days of summer with good food for your soul. As always, we are anxious to hear what you think. Please share your feedback with us, and pass on this newsletter to a friend or three.
I wonder what you consider to be the most important issue of our day. And how does your answer to that question interact with your Christian beliefs?
Since the day of Pentecost itself, God’s people have had to respond to similar questions as they wrestled the diverse interactions between their beliefs and the realities of their lives. In the early Church, those interactions first revolved around the ethnic expansion of the Gospel.
In the centuries since, the interplay between our theology and our physical life and relationships has continued. The sacred and the secular exist inseparably in our lives.
It was this union of theology and practice that led sixteenth century Reformers, motivated by their belief in the centrality of Scripture, to translate the Bible into the spoken language so that all might have access to God’s Word. By the eighteenth century, Christians sought to extend that access from a congregational to a personal level, prompting believers to spearhead education movements so that all might be able to read God’s Word for themselves. That kind of Christian activity has continued in the generations since as believers have led on the way on issues including the abolition of slavery, the eradication of child labor, prison reform, the the shaping of justice systems and so much more.
Alister McGrath has written, ‘Every location, every generation, every challenge forces the community of faith to reread the Bible asking what it might say to this situation.’
Which takes us back to my original questions. What is the issue of our day?
My answer would be climate change - which I believe is the urgent and (literally) burning issue of our day. If our biblical belief says that the Earth is the Lord’s, and that God has given humankind a duty of care toward it (Genesis 2:15), then we are individually and corporately called to action. I think you’ll appreciate Judy Allen’s wisdom in the next piece about how she is approaching the issue of our day.
—Rachel Campbell on behalf of the Sage Forum Team
 Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2008)
God, Creation and Us
by Judy Allen
The natural world is an extraordinary gift. In Chicago, I see more concrete than nature, but there are still forest preserves, gardens, and artistry everywhere, not to mention beautiful Lake Michigan. In other parts of the world, I’ve hiked mountains, walked along beautiful beaches, was mesmerized by powerful waterfalls, marveled at massive redwood trees, searched for wildlife in Yellowstone, and admired dazzling butterflies.
Climate change enthusiasts claim this beautiful world is in danger of going up in smoke, sooner rather than later. Climate change deniers claim it’s nonsense. These agenda driven attitudes distract us from some foundational truths about God, his creation, and our place in his creation.
I’m far from an expert on climate change or conservation, so I pulled The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age by Norman Wirzba, which I read years ago, off my shelf. I was surprised to discover a strong link between environmentalism and the Sabbath.
It is often taught that the creation of man and woman was the climax of God’s creative work, but Wirzba challenges us to see creation of the Sabbath as the climax of creation. God wasn’t finished creating on the sixth day, for he created rest, shalom, on the seventh day. “The key to the truth of creation is to be found in the Sabbath, for in the Sabbath creation finds its fulfillment, goal and purpose.” (35)
That suggests that God’s rest, delight, goal, is for every part of the natural world – his creation - to experience shalom. If that’s true, and we are treating the natural world as if it were created for our use and not for God’s delight, we need to do some re-thinking.
Wirzba writes that “…an appreciation for the doctrine of creation will lead to a meaningful, wholesome reconnection with the wider social ecological, cosmological, and divine contexts in which we necessarily live…in other words…recover the art of being creatures.” (15)
We are creatures created by God, and in Genesis 1:28 God gave us an assignment to fill and subdue the earth and rule over every plant and animal. If shalom encompasses more than human flourishing, if God desires that the mountains, forests, plains, oceans, gardens, and every plant and animal on the planet should be flourishing along with those living in cities, suburbs, and rural areas, then we must admit, we have not been competent rulers of the natural world.
Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba, in their book Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation, write that that we have a severe case of ecological amnesia. In other words, our emphasis on consumerism has led us to forget that our conveniences come through production of the soil, water, animals, minerals, and those who work with them.
Climate change has raised the awareness of this disconnect, but in my opinion, it has been focused too narrowly on fossil fuels. It’s a far bigger problem. We need to educate ourselves about all the factors that contribute to climate change. Yes, we can work to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, but deforestation, pollution of rivers and oceans, fertilizers, pesticides, and even pumping groundwater are all contributing to environmental disaster.
Education will take discipline, wisdom, and time. Read with discernment, check the perspective of the writers, discuss the issue with friends, and, I hate to say it, but follow the money. It will not be easy, and frankly, I’m not sure I’m up for it, but if God desires the flourishing of everything on earth, Christians should know how they can contribute to a healthier world.
As a consumer, I can research where and under what conditions the groceries I buy are grown and purchase accordingly. Organic produce is more available now than it was ten years ago, and that’s probably because more consumers have demanded it. Am I willing to inconvenience myself and dig deeper into my budget to find meat and produce raised with environmentally sound practices?
The connection of the Sabbath with environmental concerns takes the issue back to where it all began: God, his creation and us. It has raised more questions than answers for me, and perhaps it has for you as well, but they are worthy questions.
Only when we realize that we are all responsible for this earth and educate ourselves on more of the ecological story will we begin to take meaningful action. Honestly, it sounds overwhelming. So, I will take the first step to educate myself, and then I’ll trust God to let me know what, if anything, to do next.
For more on the subject:
August Media Picks
[BOOK]Tell Me the Dream Again: Reflections on Family, Ethnicity, and the Sacred Work of Belonging by Tasha Jun. In her poetic, image-laden voice, Tasha Jun writes candidly of her struggle growing up biracial in a family with generational trauma. She also writes candidly of her faith journey as she learned to embrace all of herself, including her ethnicity, and understand that God does the same. (AR)
[BOOK] No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister is a novel about the difference reading fiction can make in one’s life. Alice completed a novel that she’d been working on for years, sent it off to publishers, got rejected, and finally found a woman, Madeline, who would publish it. No Two Persons then takes readers through several stories of those who read and were affected by the novel. (JA)
[VIDEO-Hulu] We watched the recent season of The Bear, which was very good, but I want to alert sensitive viewers to the language. (Every other word, literally, was an F-bomb.) But if you get past the language, this series says something about the importance of relationships, decisions that must be made about how much time to spend on a career at the expense of relationships, effective leadership, and all the inner thoughts and family dynamics that can plague someone. (JA)
[BOOK] The Six Conversations: Pathways to Connecting in an Age of Isolation and Incivility by Dr. Heather Holleman. If you're looking for more meaningful conversations, check out this book which helps readers discover mindsets and principles for connecting with people. This book has so much helpful material that my book club took two sessions to discuss everything in it. (SF)
[BOOK] The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis by Karen Swallow Prior. Prior, a Christian English professor and insightful cultural analyst, invites readers to reflect on how the stories we have shared with one another in Evangelicalism have shaped our understanding of ourselves both as individuals and as members of the church. The book explores themes including awakening, conversion, domesticity, empire, the Rapture, and more. Prior encourages prayerful reflection on how we got to this current moment in Evangelicalism so we can move with wisdom and intention into the future. (MV)
[BOOK] In God of Violence Yesterday: God of Love Today, Rev. Dr. Helen Paynter addresses the issue of how many Christians see a discrepancy between God in the Old and God in the New Testaments. Her skilLful handling of the Word of God goes a long way towards reconciling this wrongful discrepancy. (RC)
[PODCAST] Freakonomics. The website of this podcast offers an excellent summary of its P.O.V.: “Freakonomics co-author Stephen J. Dubner uncovers the hidden side of everything. Why is it safer to fly in an airplane than drive a car? How do we decide whom to marry? Why is the media so full of bad news? Also: things you never knew you wanted to know about wolves, bananas, pollution, search engines, and the quirks of human behavior.” This long-running series always has lots of thought-provoking discussion for us lifetime learners. (MV)
[BOOK] Good Night Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea. This novel tells the story of the Donut Dollies, women who served with the Red Cross during World War II. They traveled in vans to serve the troops freshly made coffee and donuts and a taste of home. The novel is based on the author's mother's experience. As a war novel, it certainly has its share of hard and harrowing scenes, but you'll also find scenes with humor and warmth (even a little romance). This story kept me riveted and taught me about an aspect of World War II that I knew nothing about. (SF)
What are you reading, watching, and listening to this month? We’d love to hear from you!
Coming in September: Engaging culture with grace and wisdom. And watch for our mid-month devotional, the Sage Forum Extra.
Check out our Sage Forum video offerings at our You Tube channel. More to come soon!
Finally, we are considering putting together a Sage Forum monthly cohort who will meet to discuss topics relevant to those of us in our Sage years (click here to look at the Table of Contents in the book that started it all). If you’re interested in knowing more, click the button below to shoot us an email.