My dear friends,
I don't know about you, but I have never been much good about New Year’s resolutions. I find my new resolve generally peters out by the middle of January, as the New Year holiday idealism hits the reality of everyday post-Christmas life. One thing I am increasingly convinced about, however, is my relationship with the natural environment.
The Church has, as in so many things, desperately been trying to set its Environmental house in order and catch up with the wider debate. This year sees an initiative by Chester Diocese to help churches undertake environmental audits of their activities and buildings, and work towards reducing the effect of our actions on the environment.
Many would say that this simply smacks of the Church jumping on the environmental band wagon. I believe however that Christians have a unique contribution to make to the environmental debate. Our involvement is not based on the environmental scare stories that motivate through personal desires of self-interest or self-preservation. Instead Christian concern for the environment is in theory born out of our relationship with God, one another, and His creation.
Sally McFague1 an American Theologian highlights what she sees as the paradox of America’s being the most Christian of the nations in the western world yet also having one of the worst environmental records. She believes that there is an urgent need for Christians to revaluate their relationship with the natural world.
Her approach is a practical, one suggesting that a renewed relationship with nature begins with us falling in love with, or learning again to appreciate, one aspect of the natural environment. That could be a particular plant in your garden, a tree you pass on your way to work or a particular place that you like to escape to while walking the dog.
She suggests that implicit in the Genesis account of creation is a God- given vocation for humans within the nature we are part of. McFague models this vocation on an understanding of Jesus’s ministry that sought to love thy neighbour, heal the sick and come alongside the marginalised and oppressed. Seen in the wider context of the goodness of God’s creation and His love for all, she believes Christians have a unique motivation to minimise their damage of the environment.
The practical implications of McFague's work are simple that in the same way that loving our neighbour and building Christian community demonstrates God’s love for all people, as we seek to care for the environment we allow God’s creation to speak of him. A polluted river speaks of death and human sin, the same river brimming with fish and wildlife speaks of God’s kingdom and the goodness of his creation.
Rowan Williams in his foreword to a recent Church of England report on this issue, urges us to learn again to be part of the created order. He says ‘receive the world God has given. Go for a walk. Get wet. Dig the earth’2. So if you see me soaked to the skin and covered with mud wandering back across the fields, just put it down to New Years resolutions.
1 McFague, S., Super, Natural Christians, 1997, SCM Press: London.
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