I have a complex relationship with the Church. On the one hand, my identity and sense of meaning is deeply rooted in grace through my faith in God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The Church as the community of faith has been a cornerstone of belonging for me for much of my life. On the other hand, so much harm has come to Earth and all her creatures at the hands of Christians through exclusion, exploitation, and domination.
It all goes back to the beginning, to Creation. The concept of dominion in Genesis 1:28 for too long has been interpreted by humans to mean permission, directed by God, to do as we please with whatever we want whenever we want, without regard for the consequences. We neglect to understand dominion as stewardship and responsibility, alongside the Genesis 2:15 directive “to till it and keep it,” to serve and protect Creation. It has been too easy for us to point to our place as the pinnacle of Creation, forgetting that we are also the most dependent on all the rest of Creation. Other creatures and plants can get along without us (and sometimes despite us), but we can’t survive without them.
This either/or thinking leads to destructiveness in so many areas of our life together in this world. You either agree with me, or you are against me. We do it my way, or not at all. All people in a group that differs from me (race, religion, country of origin, etc.) are bad. The Earth’s resources are here for the taking, so we’ll take all we can while the getting is good, without regard for the future. Climate change is a political issue, so we’d better not talk about it in our congregations. You either believe the biblical account of Creation or science, pick one or the other.
Nature teaches us a better way, if only we will stop and learn and listen. Biological systems know the value of each and every creature, along with the need for diversity in communities for strength and sustainability. A lone creature or species will not thrive or survive without others around it. We are both independent and interdependent, gifted with wisdom and creativity while also dependent on the simple and basic, called to do great things while remaining humble in our nakedness. We are both uniquely and wonderfully made as individuals and part of the glorious community of Earth with diversity of species both human and non-human.
Living as both/and creatures, rather than either/or, embraces the wisdom of Creation. So while I still struggle with the Church, our destructiveness, and our blindness, I also still find hope in courageous Christians who speak out about the dangers of climate change, who gather in their congregations to form Green Teams for education and action, and who act on behalf of the poor and hungry. I revel in the beauty of Creation stories found in all religions and the scientific theories that give depth to our deepest human yearnings to know where things come from and how things came to be. I recognize in myself my own wastefulness and mindlessness about resource use, even as I strive to be more Earthly-minded and attentive to the consequences of my actions.
We live in a world of complex relationships. And that is the beauty of Creation.
Noni Strand is passionate about Earth and all Creation. She is an ordained Lutheran pastor who has served in congregational and campus settings, and now serves as Manager of Chaplaincy at Salina Regional Health Center in Salina, KS. An MA in Earth Literacy fueled her advocacy for Earth justice and led to her book, Rooted and Grounded in Love: Devotions for Growing Couples.