Unlike the earlier bloggers, I live surrounded by red brick, cobbles, cement, light pollution, next to a major arterial road (an old roman one) that makes its way through our enormous city. I step out of our door onto concrete, into a world that often seems careless of creation. But, I love our city. I love its life, its fullness, its busyness, creativity, its dynamic attempt to create space for people to live together. I also love creation. I’m the kind of person who feels most alive outside, in the wild, with horizons. I’ve traded that for the life I have now because of God. And so, part of what that has meant is negotiating how to marry the three loves: God, creation and the city.
The way we’ve done that has shifted over years: at the moment, the nearest blade of proper grass has been carefully nurtured by our neighbors and us in a patch of land that we reclaimed (strictly speaking appropriated, ahem) from drug users, gun-hiders, waste and the city. It was a mess, and our row of houses backed onto it. Finally, after WhatsApp collaboration, in the street conversations, we took action. We fenced it off with builders’ yard fences, chained it to walls, and effectively said ‘ours.’ It was vandalized. We persisted. Finally, it’s been (mostly) left alone.
We have tended it carefully as guerrilla gardeners, until now it’s a little haven outside of our terraced houses. During Coronavirus our patch, no bigger than half a gym basketball court, saw us planting veg, herbs, sunflowers (oh how they loved the wall we put them against!), mowing, picnicking, harvesting wild blackberries and generally caring. My neighbors, none-of-whom profess faith, are all in. Together we’ve tilled the soil, together we’ve harvested. We’ve mourned some losses of plants, we’ve disliked slugs together, we’ve cultivated earth-worms in the small compost heap we made, we’ve dreamt about an orchard and no litter! There’s something in all this that means as we offer this care and stewardship we step into our truest humanity – the image of God defaced but not erased. Over plants we’ve talked about death, prayer, hope, life. We’ve shared some of our job-sorrows, our yearnings, our frustrations at our neighborhood and its pain. At points we’ve swapped exhaustion stories, shared exhilaration and, in the night, it’s become a gathering-around-a-chimenea place for some. In this plot of land, we’ve cooperated, and we’ve built community. We’ve discovered a gift: caring for creation as a diverse community has meant that we’re for and with and alongside one another in powerful ways.
In all of this there’s something visceral at work. Our guts know that all this soil-turning and watching for sun and rain is calling out something deep inside us. Our connectedness to the planet and its turning as we dig, sow, nurture plants and reap, reflects something of deep grace. We’re reflecting the beginning of our faith story. God’s speaking goodness over the earth. God’s calling people to be gardeners. We’re also foreshadowing something of the end of the story, a city with a beautiful garden, fresh water, worshipping folk enfolded into one community of love. In the middle space of this, we shape a tiny plot of land into a story board of nothing-to-something, death-to-life, stranger-to-gardener, and as we watch miracles unfold together, we rejoice.
I tell you all this because for us, part of our urban dwelling is participating in a lifestyle that cares for creation – but in our case, it’s as it grows through cracks, slowly. The acknowledgement of the miracle-maker seems far away for our neighbors (honestly), but the awe that each little miracle of seed-to-plant evokes is a good reminder that God’s harvest is woven in with tending, growing, caring, nurturing, tilling, planting… AND that so much of our cooperation with God relies on some mysterious force bringing the whole to life.
I tell you this story because in the theology of creation care our truest commitment to our beloved planet, her people, their lives, is worked out in the ground around us. Creation care is about the places we live in the now – not a dream farm somewhere else (though that would be lovely), not another pristine land that we shape into our dream of wholeness, not a.n.other place – no, the truest care for creation is found in how we take the street we live in and say of it: ‘God’s’. Our truest stewardship is honed in the ordinary places of our lives where we discover how to line ourselves up on the right side of neighbor love, step up and tend the fragile, left-on-the-side-of-the-road-beaten lands, people and places. The truest creation care is in the present reality of our daily existence where we look around with God-light in our eyes and join in creating, cooperating and crafting something beautiful where once there was only a wasteland.
- Deirdre Brower Latz is the Principal of Nazarene Theological College. She is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene with farming roots, she's immersed in urban living. She's passionate about creation care as part of God's love for the world and God's longing for the utter peace and Shalom of creation.