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Can We Save the Environment?By Gena Minnix
This fall, Sowing Holy Questions will explore topics of stewardship, reflecting theologically on practical decisions about money, material possessions, ecology and our connection to God’s creation.
Last year while visiting my sister I caught an Uber in downtown Portland, Oregon. I learned my driver had just returned from a visit to Alaska where he’d taken a helicopter tour and witnessed the breakdown of glaciers due to warming temperatures. Then last month I ran into a friend who described how rising temperatures are affecting the fertility of sea turtles around the globe. Last Saturday I lost a few hours trying to understand the relationship between coral reefs which are dying off at an alarmingly unusual rate and warming oceans. These days I go about my daily activities under a cloud of tension, wondering, “Can we save the environment? Or *voice drops to a whisper* is it too late?”
Must it end?
I wonder if this question is, at the core, perhaps an eschatalogical one. What does it mean to care really well for something that might end? What has God purposed for this era in which we’re living? And what’s our role in carrying that purpose out?
Being a housekeeper
I’m told the word “steward” comes from two words: “house” and “keeper”. The house where my family lives is kept pretty well, I’d say–it’s moderately tidy, climate controlled. We invest thought, money, and time to make our home a comfortable place for ourselves and our guests to rest, eat, pursue hobbies, and spend time together. I know our house, built in the 1970’s, won’t last. One day it will be torn down, perhaps by our grandchildren. But every resource we invest in it today returns to us a quality of life which supports our work, play, and efforts to love those God brings our way.
When I think of what it means to be a steward–a housekeeper–of our planet, I feel… admittedly overwhelmed. The needs–clean up, climate control–will likely require an investment of thought, money, and time on a scale hard to imagine. Most of us are not managing global corporations or negotiating international treaties; we’re not writing laws or running countries. Who can move the needle on this issue? Questions like these occupy my mind, until I think, “Maybe this question is not just eschatological; perhaps it’s also soteriological… perhaps it’s about our salvation.”
How shall we be saved?
The story in Matthew 7 of the “hearers and doers” may hold some interesting insights for us around this question of salvation as it relates to global environmental threats. In this story, Jesus compares everyone who hears his words and acts on them to the wise builder who built a house on a rock. For most of the last century in the developing world, we’ve probably built our livelihood–economy, food supply, infrastructure–on the sand.
And our fall may be great.
So what’s the pattern?
I wonder if a clue is to be found in the pairing of two halves to make a whole:
hearing and doing…
listening and responding…
prayer and work…
contemplation and action…
If so, then perhaps my prayer is this:
“God help me steward my own ears for listening, my mind for discernment, my hands for work and action.”
When I think of it that way, I feel… slightly less overwhelmed. The needs–clean up, climate control–still require an investment of large-scale thought, money, and time hard to imagine. And we may not be managing a global corporation or running a country. Nevertheless, I wonder if we can trust the pattern we find in scripture and throughout the history of the church:
We’ve never really saved anything.
But we’ve fallen often.
Nevertheless, we’re part of Christ’s body.
And that body has a track record for resurrection.
May it be so.
Lord have mercy.
Questions for further reflection:
“What does it mean to be a steward of my body’s resources for listening, prayer, and contemplation?”
“Where am I called to action toward clean-up and climate control for the environment?”
Dr. Gena Minnix is the Director of the Loise Henderson Wessendorff Center for Christian Ministry and Vocation, and Associate Professor of Counselor Education. She is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist trained in systemic therapies, EMDR, trauma and neuroscience, attachment and play therapy, and the Enneagram. In 2013, Gena helped co-found The Human Empathy Project, a nonprofit in Austin that exists to foster empathic connection with members of faith and LGBTQ communities. She is the author of several articles and chapters on the intersection of spiritual, religious, and ethical values in counseling, and is currently working on a book that applies neuroscience to Christian theology. Dr. Minnnix and her family attend Vox Veniae church in East Austin.
BA, The University of Texas at Austin
MA, George Fox University, Portland, Oregon
PhD, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX
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