Happy Earth Day! I realize this holiday may not be the first thing on many of our minds, but I believe that this period of confinement which has caused the clearing of air pollution, wildlife returning to newly clear waterways, crude oil becoming negative in value (oil companies are paying $40 a barrel for buyers to take their oil), and 8 in 10 flights being cancelled is both a vision of a greener future, and a warning about how much work we have yet to do. Gina McCarthy, the former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama Administration, said in an interview with the Guardian, “This isn’t the way we would’ve wanted things to happen, God no… This is just a disaster that pointed out the underlying challenges we face. It’s not something to celebrate.”
With this sobering reminder from McCarthy, I believe this Earth Day (as well as every Earth Day) can provide us as Christians with a great opportunity to evaluate our responsibility to work for a greener and more equitable world. So, I would like to take the remainder of this blog to talk about why Christians have a duty to care for the earth. A popular argument I hear for why Christians should care about ecology is that God gave humans the responsibility to be stewards of the earth in Genesis 1:28-31 and if we abuse our lands, air, and water we are failing in God’s first command to humanity. I think this is a fine argument and if taken seriously can lead to positive change. However, I would argue that this model for Christian ecology is insufficient, and instead that our divine injunction for ecology should actually be placed in the theology of the incarnation. Priscilla E. Eppinger in her article, Christian Ecofeminism as Kenotic Ecology: Transforming Relationships away from Environmental Stewardship argues that,
"Incarnation, in the guise of God-with-us, creates for us a new reality of relationship within the natural order. The symbol of God painted in incarnation is not a relationship of separateness, superiority, and externality. By pointing to Jesus as the most clear (but not entire or sole) revelation of God’s nature, incarnation constructs a God who is not dominating, but compassionate, not pitying but caring, not outside of but participating in."
Eppinger also says,
"An incarnational model for ecology provides us with a new sense of relationships, an acknowledgement of interconnectedness and valuing of all members of our communities. In any community, the various members play different roles. Some members provide stability, while others offer spontaneity. Some are holders of the long-term collective memory, some ensure that others eat, some look after the physical or spiritual well-being of community members. Some community members provide moments of humor or beauty… With an enlarged sense of community we will be able to see that the geologic base on which we rest, stone and soil, as well as large trees, serve as the keepers of long-term memory. Climatic and topographic elements offer a sense of stability over time. Rivers, winds and vegetation do some of the chore of cleaning up. Animals and plants alike provide nourishment for other members of the community. And our place in this community? A first glance shows that humans are the more powerful members. Our influence extends throughout the communities sometimes called ecosystems. A closer look reveals that, though powerful, we are also entirely dependent on the rest of the community for our well-being."
I know that this is a pretty theologically dense argument, but what I want to help us recognize is that the arguments for why Christians should care about the world are more than just arguments about climate change (as important as those are), but actually touch every aspect of our faith and lives. Therefore, not only is the Christian injunction to care about climate change and ecology a cherry-picked or proof-texted argument but has roots in the most core parts of our Christian faith. So much of Western Christianity has been infected with a destructive form of individualism that values the personal over the communal, and I think one of the most compelling parts of caring about the earth is that it is inherently a communal calling. We cannot do it alone, and it will always affect more than just us.
So, for this Earth Day 2020, I encourage you to consider your relationship to the earth from an incarnational perspective. Perhaps ask yourself, does my faith affect the way I treat the earth on a daily basis? Do I do enough to help curb climate change? How can I live my life differently in one or two ways in order to care for the earth and other people? The purpose of this is not to depress you, or make you feel badly but to perhaps help you think about why our faith calls us to a global perspective and why caring for the earth is vital to the living out of our Christian faith.
For this week, and in honor of Earth Day, I encourage you to take a walk outside and enjoy the new life of the spring season! Unfortunately, this cannot include visiting a park, but there is nature all around us if we pay attention. While you are on your walk, take a few pictures of the nature you see.
This is a cool website to calculate you carbon footprint, once you are done filling out your information, it will compare your footprint to your country/locality and let you see how that compares to global targets. This is a really useful tool to help us think critically about the areas of carbon excess in our own lives, and how we can change our behavior for the betterment of the earth.
After you have done the Body and Mind exercises, I encourage you to use them to create a brief devotional time.
· Take the pictures from your walk and while looking at them say a prayer thanking God for the beauties of creation.
· Next, using your carbon footprint exercise to reflect on the ways you have fallen short of treating God’s creation rightly. Then pray this prayer of confession:
O God, maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen:
You place us in your creation,
and you command us to care for it.
Your works declare glory and splendor,
and you call us to praise and reverence.
Where we have degraded or destroyed earth’s bounty,
Where we have taken beauty and majesty for granted,
have mercy upon us.
Where we have become estranged
from the creatures with whom we share this planet,
grant us your peace.
Renew us in the waters of baptism,
refresh us with the winds of your spirit,
and sustain us with the bread of life.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
and for the sake of the new creation, we pray. Amen.
· Then, recite these Words of Assurance:
Thank you loving God of all creation for your mercy toward me.
Your creation is the work of your hands, thank you for the gifts of the earth and help me to be in right relationship with your world.
· Finally, listen to this hymn All Creatures (of Our God and King)
 Milman, Oliver. “Pandemic Side-Effects Offer Glimpse of Alternative Future on Earth Day 2020.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, April 22, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/22/environment-pandemic-side-effects-earth-day-coronavirus.  Ibid.  Wright, Rebecca. “The World's Largest Coronavirus Lockdown Is Having a Dramatic Impact on Pollution in India.” CNN. Cable News Network, April 1, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/31/asia/coronavirus-lockdown-impact-pollution-india-intl-hnk/index.html.  See these two articles: Article 1, Article 2 for how environmental justice and social justice are linked.  Eppinger, Priscilla E. "Christian Ecofeminism as Kenotic Ecology: Transforming Relationships Away from Environmental Stewardship." Journal for the Study of Religion: JSR 24, no. 2 (2011): 47-63. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1145692753?accountid=13316.  Ibid.  written by Rev. Ken Carter, pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Posted on the website of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference