Earth Day 2012: What does saving the world have to do with saving souls?

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts…
Psalm 24:1-4a

Earth Day’s Birthday

Today is Earth Day 2012!

In case you don’t know, Earth Day came out of the late 1960’s consciousness about energy, war, and environmental concerns. A Wisconsin Senator (one Gaylord Nelson) took the lead, encouraging mass demonstrations on April 22, 1970 in order to garner some political awareness.

And it worked! The first Earth Day was a big hit. Millions of Americans participated. President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later that year. Over the next few years, a string of pro-environmental policies were born: including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act.

It’s an awesome example of how grassroots consciousness raising can create real political awareness and change.

42 Years Later…

So what does Earth Day look like now, in 2012?

Well, the answer is: not much.

This year marks the 42nd Earth Day! It’s getting so old that it barely hits our public (or religious!) consciousness anymore. Those 200 million Americans who showed up on the first Earth Day are 4 decades older now, so it’s up to a new generation to take up the task of consciousness raising around environmental issues.

And I think that religious voices should be front and center in that effort.

What Would Jesus Do?… about the earth

Too often, though, religious voices (including my own!) are silent or timid in the public conversation about environmental issues and policies.

I tried my best internet hunting skills to find out what Christians were saying this year about Earth Day, and I could only find a few brave voices. [Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, I’m with you that we need a new Earth Day theology!]

When I think about what Christians are doing and saying today about care for creation, I think mostly of the mellow, mildly publicized celebrations for Earth Day that are pretty popular with churches.

Maybe we encourage people to walk or bike to worship. Maybe we put up a banner in the sanctuary. Maybe we start a church recycling program or preach about the spiritual value of compost.

I think those efforts matter (a lot), but I don’t think they’re enough.

We need to do more. We need to continue developing a dynamic theology that supports deep change around our lifestyles. And then we need to be making those changes — as individuals, as families, as congregations, as communities.

Developing a new theology

We cannot pretend that the way we treat creation is not tied to our beliefs about God or humanity. We cannot ignore that our spiritual lives are entwined with our physical lives, that our scriptures speak deeply about the world in which we live.

Something will have gone out of us as a people
if we do not love and protect creation,
and that something will be our soul.
If our actions can destroy, so they can heal.

Knowing that we are not independent, self-enclosed entities,
but rather fields of energy integrated with and dependent upon
the environment in which we live, can transform and reshape the world,
for it comes from the wisdom and reverence of the soul.
Christianity has talked a lot about “saving souls.”
Saving our world is about saving souls. It’s time for us to talk about it.
Rodney R. Romney, Wilderness Spirituality

So let’s start talking about it.

There are a lot of Christian organizations and leaders doing important work on environmental issues [I’ve included some of my favorite resources below], and we need to lend our voices, our hands, our money, our votes, and our faiths to the effort to developing the kind of living theology that will create lasting change.

So this week I will be posting some of my ideas on how our Christian faith can inform our environmental ethic. I encourage you to add your voice to the conversation — and to speak love to the world with your life, in a way that challenges and rejuvenates you.

Some of my favorite religious eco-resources/organizations:


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Filed under Ethics, Theology and Faith

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