Nazarenes everywhere hunger to be a part of the movement of the Spirit to heal our benighted planet, realize healthy connections with non-human creation, and to fulfill our vocation as keepers of the paradise of God.
But where to begin?
Simply changing lightbulbs from incandescent to CFLs is so 2000s (we’ve moved on to LCD, friend).
Recycling? As laudable as brushing your teeth.
Boycotting industrial meat? Friend, join us in the deeper waters.
We at Nazarenes for Creation Care understand that no one wants to jump into the fray of tending creation only to have some smug Portlander snickering at us from their Subaru window.
Fear not, Nazarene earthkeeper! We have compiled a list of common beginner mistakes that will move you swiftly through the amateur stages of earth-tending into the fully mature stature of tending God’s beloved world.
1. Forgetting to garden.
When we get our hands into the soil, we initiate healthful connections that ripple out in directions unimaginable. Growing food connects us to our first vocation to watch and keep the paradise of God. In the garden, we become aware of our kinship with creation and of our inescapable dependence. Nothing like a well-tended garden that says, “That green Nazarene really knows where her trowel is!”
The garden reminds us of what we have to gain and what we have to lose. It provides a practical and delicious alternative to industrial food, which exacts deep costs to the health of our ecosystems and lives by the misery and ruin of our neighbors--human and otherkind. The garden sustains us, body and soul.
It’s tempting to think that if we could just push through comprehensive legislation with just the right political proxies, the right celebrity champions, and air-tight provisions, the world would heal.
You don’t think that! You’re Nazarene.
Ok, so this brings us to the second mistake Nazarenes make.
2. Doing it by yourself.
If you weren’t raised by progressive Wesleyans, you might have grown up with a personalistic view of discipleship, with the scope and weight of salvation on your fragile shoulders. Planetary salvation, however, is a team sport (and the only sport worth playing).
Our distracting culture will narrow your horizons of possibility and sing your passions to sleep. You need a committed group of passionate earth-keepers surrounding you with love, faithful practices, joy, challenge, kale recipes, and imagination.
It’s not a choice between personal integrity and large-scale political organizing; both of these and everything in between is needed. We must be waging peace on multiple fronts at once. For this, we need supportive local communities linked up with regional, national, and international groups (like those within the Church of the Nazarene) to accomplish work that is much bigger than ourselves.
3. Forgetting to organize
What novice Nazarene earthkeeper hasn’t charged the field of earth abusers--faces painted and bellowing war cries like Braveheart--only to turn around and find themselves all alone?
But, friend, it happens to all of us. Since we have an economy that handsomely awards respectable, highly-educated citizens for trashing the planet, volunteer Nazarene earthkeepers can find themselves painfully overpowered. We need to organize, not just among our merry band of earthkeepers, but broadly--“far as the curse is found.”
It would be simpler to pretend that political engagement is unnecessary to save the planet. We must acknowledge, however, that most of the terrible things being done to trash the planet are legal. They shouldn’t be. In the face of a collective realization as to the enormity of the challenges and the grand scope of God’s salvation, I and many others have moved beyond righteous personalism to collective action that includes right living. Among my hopes for Nazarenes for Creation Care is the possibility that we could organize as a church body to denounce false political alliances with those who destroy the earth and create with our leaders, in and outside our church, protections for the life of the world that God loves and that Christ came to save in its entirety.
4. Leaving economic structures undisturbed
Much of the environmental destruction that happens in the world is justified as necessary to produce and protect jobs. Just try to save the planet from certain doom, and you will be promptly told that, though saving the planet sounds like a good idea, it’s actually bad for business, so… good idea, but you will have to go back to not saving the planet.
Though Christians have tremendous resources within their Bible and tradition for questioning the dominant economy (Jesus comes to mind), many Christians believe that our nation’s economic pursuits are ordained by God and the nature of the universe (spoiler: it is not). If we read scripture with integrity, we understand that work which destroys or enslaves land, people, or our non-human siblings is condemned, no matter how profitable it is for those who conduct or benefit from that work.
Another economy is possible! “Where,” you ask, “can such an economy be found?” Patience, gentle reader. A quality installment of wisdom is even now being crafted on the subject. For now, may it suffice to say that a Christian economy would be a practical elaboration of the command, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Since trashed planets have been scientifically proven to be bad for neighbors, any economy that insists on planet trashing will need to be replaced with one that, at minimum, declines to do so.
5. Not making deep connections with earth-keeping and the mission of God
If you don’t want to find yourself ugly crying, one-handed, over a windy abyss in the Death Star, don’t go hunting Darth Vader half-trained (cf. “Six beginner mistakes of Padawan apprentices”). The Holy Spirit is awakening the children of God to give themselves to the renewal of creation. Praise be to God. However, there are centuries of bad theology and practice to unravel-all while we watch the clock ticking down and the temperature rising. You need to know what we’re up against, young Skywalker, and train accordingly.
Tending the paradise of God is present on the first and last pages of the Bible. Our embrace of earth-keeping must be equally enveloping for right understanding and practice in tending God’s creation. When I hear and read (and write) about earth-keeping and Christianity, the connections that are made are often disappointingly shallow. Yes, Jesus seemed to have liked lilies, and, yes, the bible speaks often of trees. But the scope of God’s intention for creation and its care by the people of God is more than the appreciation of its beauty and a handful of proof texts.
What is needed from Christians is not business as usual, plus recycling. The groans of creation are an alarm Christians must hear with all the urgency of the gospel. When we take seriously the science chronicling the destruction of our only home and its inhabitants while at the same time taking seriously the Wesleyan Christian tradition we belong to, the Spirit will make plain a path that is faithful to both.
6. Neglecting prayer
“Not contemplation or action, but both together,” said Brother Roger of Taize. Those who have worked for peace and justice often have a practice of prayer, meditation, or contemplation: Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Diddy (no, Google it... You’re welcome), and Wesley. On especially busy days, Wesley said he rose even earlier in the morning to pray longer (though it’s not clear that it made him a better husband).
Prayer practices are central to earth-keeping and all just actions. People who are centered in God and settled in their body tend to be at peace and spread peace. One of my dear friends converted to Christianity, in part, because the only activists he knew “who weren’t jerks” were Christian. Richard Rohr says he joined the Franciscans because they were always marching for justice and having the most fun. Paul recognized that the Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If our pursuit of justice is not filled with joy, we are, as Brother Roger said, a shadow without a light.
When we face realities as naturally depressing as climate destruction, it is easy to be overwhelmed and fall into despair. We need a living, vibrant connection with God and a belief that God is at work on behalf of abundant life. We find and abide in this connection through prayer and contemplation. This is not simply helpful to the work; it is the work.
7. Ignoring Intersectionality
A giant coal-fired power plant towers over the South African town of Soweto, festooned in murals. Before it was retired, this plant supplied power to White Johannesburg. The prevailing wind dumped its coal ash on the Black community of Soweto, which received almost none of the power from the coal plant.
Environmental justice seeks to name and correct the intersectionality of racism and environmental destruction. Although these conjoined evils are as old as civilization, among the first to name them were activists from the United Church of Christ in the late 1970s. These Christians organized against the placement of yet another toxic dump in yet another a Black community. Since then, people looking through the lens of environmental justice have seen the ways in which destruction of oppressed people and trashing the local ecosystem almost always go together.
This is one way in which intersectionality can be recognized in earth-keeping, but the intersections are numerous. Seeing oppression in its discreet expression keeps people working for liberation fragmented and weak. We can build just power when we work with unified vision and collective strength for the liberation of those suffering from environmental destruction, racism, gender and sexual discrimination, militarism, classim and other forms of oppression.
Mistake # 8: Not reading Wendell Berry
Today is his 85th birthday. Give yourself a present and go read his books.
I would suggest starting with Jayber Crow (a novel) and The Art of the Commonplace (a collection of essays).
Well there you have it. Knowing what beginner mistakes to avoid, I hope you can move into your full stature as an earthkeeper with confidence and style.
Coming up, I will be developing each of these points (at least the first 7) at greater length.
Peace of Christ!
Jason Adkins is the Urban Farmer and Professor of Environmental Justice at Trevecca Nazarene University, and co-founder of Nazarenes for Creation Care