Psalm 24 begins, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too.” If you continue reading, this Psalm evokes sheer reverence for the Creator of our lands and rivers, wildlife and neighbors.
It’s a theme that’s present in many faith traditions, yet we often struggle to find common language around tending God’s precious earth.
I hear a lot of bitter arguments ensue when the term “climate change” is raised. Maybe you do too.
Maybe in this very moment of reading about climate change, you’re… a little uncomfortable. Maybe you hold strong convictions about this. Maybe you don’t. Either way, what I can tell you is that I have rarely seen two people with opposing views on climate change sway one another with impassioned arguments about the data and historical trends. Is scientific research important? Yes! It’s saved my life numerous times in 35 years, and I believe it can continue to save ours as a species. I am indebted to those who crunch the numbers.
But do I think the science of climate change is the most persuasive conversation to have as a faith community? No, actually I don’t, because hard figures rarely soften hearts.
Now before my good friends in the scientific community get too nervous, here’s what I mean from a faith perspective. What if we Christians reframed the narrative “climate change” to “creation care?” What if we redefined the consequences of inaction based on relational values, rather than numbers?
What if people of faith decided to take seriously this truth that has been around long before climate change — “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too.”
What if we chose to believe that we belonged to one another because we all belong to God? What if making shifts in our use of resources was about relationships — with our creator, yes, with our siblings across this great globe who are more vulnerable than us, yes, with our offspring who will feel the impact of our inaction greater than we will?
Would that change how we interact with our earthly resources?
You and I don’t have to agree exactly on the scientific numbers of climate change to share this common goal — we desire to leave this earth better than we found it. It’s such a basic value, but it has a long-standing impact to the scientific numbers, even more importantly, it affects our neighbors we are called to love.
I admit the whole idea of “creation care” feels overwhelming at times. I live a fast-paced life of convenience, and I know that I make daily choices that hurt this earth. Even while I acknowledge this reality, I find it hard to know what change is really going to make the most difference restoring God’s creation. And this internal conversation I have with myself often leads to inaction. Which is why this work cannot happen in isolation.
If it’s just about me and what I can change, climate change lacks the thrust of urgency. But if I’m inspired by what someone else is doing, yeah — then I’m encouraged to see what I too might contribute. This is the beauty of community. We can help one another set aside the need to do everything — and the inevitable inaction that occurs when I can’t change everything — in order to do something. Or as Mother Teresa is quoted, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
The first small thing that works for me is a shift in thinking. It helps me to connect the health of the environment with the people who live here. This is what makes creation care spiritual work — at the core of how we choose to use our resources are our neighbors who will be affected by our decisions. That is compelling work, especially for Christians called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
And the good news about pursuing creation care as a community looking out for one another is that we are able to tend together what no one can alone. Loving our neighbor is ultimately shared work, and it will always be. Creation care even expands my understanding of who my neighbor is. My neighbor might be a young mother in Sudan who walks several miles a day for fresh water. My neighbor might be my own great-great-grandchild who deserves the hope of a future breathing clean air. My neighbor might be the people removing asbestos from our church basement this very week.
Advances in science and research are absolutely a part of our quest for sustainable communities. But it’s my faith that draws me to creation care. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too.” A gift for us to tenderly cherish, with reverence for those who share it alongside us.
Our church recently engaged conversations around creation care during the SD-NE-IA UCC joint annual meeting. We participated in a break-out session about practical ways to care for creation. I generally get a little uncomfortable in these situations, because I’m just sure someone is going to call me out on all the disposable plastic in my life. Or the way I sometimes choose to use paper plates when I’m tired of dishes.
I mean, it’s probably not a bad thing for someone to call me out on those things, right? But if I take it seriously, I’m asked to change the convenience of it all. I’m asked to re-prioritize my time and resources. This discomfort with changing our lifestyles is probably at the core of all heated debates on climate change, less so the science itself.
So I sit there in a bit of discomfort during our breakout session, but after a while I sense my tension ease because of the tone of conversation. What surprised me about this gathering was how hopeful and encouraging and spirit-focused our presenters and fellow attendees were, offering basic shifts toward more sustainable choices. And I left that space feeling inspired to consider what little changes I could make.
One example offered that night was if everyone cut one minute from their shower time, we could individually save hundreds of gallons of water a year and collectively save billions of gallons of our precious earth’s fresh water — that same water my neighbor in Sudan walks several miles to gather each day. Could my shortened shower — or heck, skipping a shower every so often — help my Sudanese neighbor? Even if I can’t know it for sure, isn’t that a good way to live? Caring for others by conserving resources?
I left our annual meeting filled with hope in a shared vision of a world where all life is valued equally, and the earth’s sustainability is essential for this to happen. Creation care is spiritual work, because we can accomplish together what none can do alone. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too.”
I’ve been pondering what one change I could do that would help tend this blessed earth we’ve been gifted. I thought, shorter showers, okay. I used to compost, maybe I can start that again? Maybe I just rock our entire backyard to conserve water and time spent mowing — I really like that one.
The night before I was set to preach this message, I was out picking up the yard to mow, when I stepped into sopping grass. I mean, my tennis shoe splashed in the grass, during a drought. I was so confused until I saw it — the hose on full blast. My kids couldn’t remember turning it on, which means that hose was running a long time. Yes my water bill will be crazy, but more importantly it means I haven’t done a good enough job educating my kiddos about tending God’s precious resources, like fresh water.
So that’s where I’m going to start, talking more about waste with my kids. I’m hopeful that it could lead to all sorts of new ideas around our house, made even stronger by the shared vision within our family. I’m curious what one thing will you choose to pursue with great love for God’s creation and your neighbors? Let’s not be afraid to talk about creation care, and let’s be courageous in doing small things with great love.
Emily Munger is a pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ.