Environment + Metaphysical
There is a spiritual dimension to how we view the Earth. I’m not simply talking about ecology, but society and culture and every form of life. Author and pastor Brian McLaren is like a surrogate Santa Claus to me – not that he knows it [or me, for that matter] – but I get so many gifts from his books and writings that I feel like leaving him milk and cookies at Christmas. McLaren, in his book A Generous Orthodoxy [which you should never read unless you are slightly charmed by being offended], gave me my first clues as to the redemptive purposes of God for the whole planet and its contents. Music, movies, pop culture, animals, the ozone and the wilderness, Russia and Madagascar, oil and clean air are all affected by a theology that compels believers to understand our purpose here is to redeem, not to condemn; to save, not to judge. If indeed we believe God has entrusted this planet into our care, what should we do about it? What does that mean for the environment? For war? For the funny divisions we make between secular and sacred? For Muslims and Democrats, Conservatives and Homosexuals? In our diverse and beautiful world, we must bring Jesus to all people and all things in the same way He presented Himself to the Samaritan woman at the well – uncompromising, but gentle; a sweet presence and a friend.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple once warned us that “it is a mistake to think that God is only, or even chiefly, interested in religion[i]”and his words could not have been more provocative in my search for a life of meaning. What else does God care about, if not we whom He has created? Might I be so bold as to suggest that He cares for everything else He created? I am inclined to believe that God values people, but not just people; and not just animals and plants or ecology either, but also cultures, societies, language, art, and technology. If “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,[ii]” then surely we must begin to understand that His interests uphold the sacred nature of all that Is.
Faith that is envirometaphysical, is faith that contends for the redemption of the Earth and all its contents.[iii] Envirometaphysics upholds the mandate to revalue the world and hasten the day “when greed and consumerism are exposed, arrogance and irreverence are unplugged, when hurry and selfishness are repented of [and] when the sacred-secular rift in our thinking is healed.[iv]” Furthermore, those who ascribe to this creation faith must not merely warm their hearts to the world, but take an active role in redemption. We must enter the world and transform it, rather than hope our good thoughts and smiles contribute to lasting change.
When I taught classes on worship at a local bible school, I asked my students to go outside and find something, anything, that they felt could be redeemed for the purposes of worship. What answers! One student came back with a roll of film they had bought – ready, like us, to be imprinted with life. Another came back with a used paper cup, claiming we are only containers for that which God destines. That was the beginning of environmetaphyics – a belief that anything could be redeemed, even you and I.
In order to contextualize our lives, and revalue the world, Walter Brueggman suggests that we return the attention of our peers and betters to both the origin and the consummation of ourselves, of our world, and of the church[v]. Indeed, when we remind one another of our fleeting presence here, the present life we lead becomes one stroke of a divine brush, and we can appreciate the art of life all around. While this may seem far-fetched, the danger in envirometaphysics is not in thinking too largely, or in valuing too much. The true peril lies in not taking envirometaphysics far enough to be of any use to the next 10,000 years of humanity looking for God like kids looking for lost socks.
[i] attributed. Source: worldofquotes.com
[ii] Psalms 24.1, NIV
[iii] or, “the fullness thereof” is you prefer a KJV rendering.
[iv] Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy p.239
[v] cf. Walter Brueggman, Texts Under Negotiation pp.29-46