Restoring Creation's Dignity
The following is from Chasing Francis (Zondervan 2006). Shared by Sue Searles:
The book’s main character, Pastor Chase Falson, rediscovers what it means to love and follow Jesus after spending time in Italy to regain his faith. His uncle, a Franciscan priest, introduces him to the beautiful life and ideals of Francis of Assisi. Upon his return he speaks to his congregation about what it means to serve Jesus completely and unreservedly. Regarding the ideal of restoring dignity, he speaks first of people. Then:
“And here’s a role for the church that will surprise you—one we’ve forgotten for far too long: we’ve got to give creation back its dignity too. If Francis were around today, he’d wonder why we weren’t leading the charge to repair and defend our wounded planet. The earth is God’s and his people ought to stand up for it. Francis saw the stamp of God on everything. We can’t fix everything, but we can find an area in town that’s trashed and make it beautiful for God again. We could adopt an endangered species and lobby the government for its protection. There are Christian organizations that are working to protect the environment—why not put them on our missions budget and send teams to work with them? That may not be much, but again it’s a start.”
Could giving the Creation back its dignity be a new sacred ritual for your religious or spiritual practice? Certainly most of my friends and family who enjoy gardening, being outdoors, or restoring habitats think so. What do you think?
Venerated education activist, Jonathan Kozol, argues in his book Amazing Grace that we Americans need to educate our youth via "Service Learning" wherever possible. Society has too many problems (infrastructure decay), too many fellow humans not getting the attention they need (shut-ins, home-less, children), and too many isolated young people. Why not make improving our schools partly about working together to improve our shared quality of life?
Service Learning is exactly what it sounds like: Service for the Reward of Learning. It is very much a ministry or a form of "paying it forward" that can be applied to any activity or group. In educational settings, it gives students the experience of working in teams to accomplish common goals. It also teaches them to help and respect others, solve problems for themselves, and address, not turn away from, core civic concerns. Service Learning inculcates self-worth via shared and personal accomplishments. All of these things build greater community cohesion. Kozol's point is that, fundamentally, these experiences and outcomes can't really be accessed sitting inside a classroom.
That goes double for environmental work. One Christian organization very much worth inclusion in your missions budget this year is PlantWithPurpose. Scott Sabin, the pioneering director of Plant With Purpose, often talks about the dignity and re-invigorated connection to God his staff and program participants feel from working outdoors, together and individually, to restore biodiversity and local food production capacity.
Plant With Purpose is leading the world in constructive poverty alleviation through environmentally restorative, community-based development. The group's guiding principles: environmental restoration, economic empowerment, and spiritual renewal, are helping Plant With Purpose to radically and rapidly reduce poverty in the world's poorest places, in ways that make the environment healthier. Their mission, to reverse deforestation and poverty around the world by transforming the lives of the rural poor, is giving Creation (including all of us) its dignity back.