Tuesday, June 13, 2006

[It's Not Easy Being Green]

(or, Why Niki Loves to Read Relevant Magazine)

The following article is an excerpt from a recent feature in the RELEVANT Leader magazine, the exclusive magazine of the RELEVANT Network.

Almost subconsciously, I dove into the kitchen trashcan to rescue the discarded soda can. I said nothing while reaching down to remove the aluminum can, but when I looked up, my wife's friend stared at me, mouth agape.

"You recycle?" she said, obviously so distracted by my action that she had momentarily stopped talking to my wife in order to discuss this late-breaking development. "Since when did you start recycling?" she said again.

What led to such bewilderment? Did my car dispense toxic fumes every time I hit the accelerator? Did I pour out old motor oil in my back yard? Did I chop down every tree in my yard? The answer is a resounding "no," yet in an instant, I understood why she had reacted that way: I am a Christian.

Paradigm Shift

While finishing up a writing project with Tri Robinson, the pastor at Boise Vineyard Fellowship in Boise, Idaho, a year and a half ago, he told me, "I've been really convicted about the way I care about the environment—and I feel like the Lord is calling me to do something about it in my personal life and with our church." I was bewildered. In my mind, environmentalists were liberal hippies who ran around worshipping the trees. Tri certainly was not one of these people. I was intrigued.

Could it be possible that caring for the environment is not only a godly value but a priority? If this is a priority, what should I actually be doing about it?

For many Christians, the resistance toward passionately caring for the environment has to do with political affiliations. When it comes to political platforms, the Democratic Party has put a stake in the ground, claiming the environment as their issue, while the Republican Party has skirted the issue, often opting for economic good over environmental good. As evidenced by exit polls from the last presidential elections, nearly 60 percent of Protestant Christians in America chose the Republican Party's platform. But what is it that almost compels us to resist taking up issues from the other party?

Peter Illyn, the director of the Christian environmental group Restoring Eden (www.restoringeden.org), speaks at churches and college campuses across the nation and explains this dilemma.

"Politics create a disconnect for people in the United States, whether they are Christians or unbelievers," he says. "We are presented with false choices all the time, meaning we have to choose between two things that we shouldn't have to choose between.

"Politicians create these false choices all the time, but so does the Church, sometimes making it 'us versus them.' Some evangelical leaders try to make it sound like if you're loving and serving the earth, then somehow you're not loving and serving God. We just need bigger hearts. For me, my faith is made stronger by my care for the earth. And in return, my care for the earth is giving me life because of my love for God, the Creator."

Creation: An Undeniable Witness

Consider Paul's words: "From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God" (Romans 1:20, NLT).

Paul is essentially saying that the earth is an evangelical tool, and who are we to destroy something that's bringing others to the Lord?

"I find it interesting that when anybody—no matter what they believe—enters into an untrampled place of creation, a sense of awe and wonder is almost always elicited," says Calvin B. DeWitt, one of the leading Christian ecologists in the United States and author of Caring for Creation: Responsible Stewardship of God's Handiwork (Baker). "Part of our witness to Jesus Christ, God as our Creator and what honors the work of the Holy Spirit in us, is we must be willing, able and eager to put ourselves in the marvelous places across all of God's earth that instill in us the praise, the joy, and the wonder that we have as human beings made in the image God—but also made as creatures to be in tune with God and with God's creation."

Changing Culture

Tri isn't just another pastor talking about the environment. Rather, his words signify the beginning of something amazing that is resulting in sweeping change for his city, church and state. On Sunday mornings, churchgoers can "tithe their trash," bringing all recycled goods to church for proper dispersal. Last fall, the church raised more than $4,000 to help fund relief aid efforts to the Gulf Coast region through collecting recycled cell phones in their community. And last summer, church members participated in numerous outdoor conservation projects that cleaned up the foothills and mountains of Idaho.

As this issue rises to a greater level of consciousness among Christians in the United States, it can no longer be ignored. Why would we ignore it anyway? Creation is the assurance of God's existence. Wouldn't every follower of Jesus want to be a good steward of this beautiful land God has given us? If we don't lead the way on this issue, we may miss the best opportunity to share the Gospel with the world around us.

Jason Chatraw is a freelance writer and co-author of Saving God's Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church's Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship (Ampelon). He loves nature and has become so proficient at sorting recycled goods, he is hoping it will become an Olympic sport by 2012.

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