In a sermon on Sunday, the pastor of the church I attended that day told the story of how he had learned to adjust his response to the usual question that seatmates on a flight ask each other – “So what do you do?” Before he made the adjustment, he had always answered directly, “I’m a pastor.” He found the conversation faded out shortly thereafter.
To create a different (but still truthful) context for a longer dialogue with fellow traveler he has begun to answer differently. The essence of his new response is this, “I’m with a non-profit that builds hospitals, feeds the poor, cares for orphans, helps people live more meaningful lives, and builds community.” The pastor said this typically generates enthusiastic curiosity. People want to learn more. I gathered they want to talk further even after he later made clear what that “non-profit” and his role actually are.
That story struck me for several reasons.
In our world today, Christianity and the Church, for so many reasons, have a connotation that is negative or at least unsettling.
And how powerful and compelling it is when people can see, both in individuals and communities of faith, the good fruit that comes from giving one’s heart and life to God.
Yet, there is something missing in that pastor’s description of what his “non-profit” does. Can a person or organization bearing good fruit in human communities out of love for God and our neighbors ignore the state of the earth? Or even contribute to its further degradation?
When will a pastor like him or you and me be able to say, “I’m a passionate member of a non-profit that builds hospitals, feeds the poor, cares for orphans, helps people live more meaningful lives, protects and renews nature, and builds community?” When will preserving and renewing God’s earth be part and parcel of what it means to live a Christian life and what a church sends out its members to do?
And picking up on the theme of the last post, what can I do to shorten the time between now and then?
More solemnly, is that transformation even possible?
I ask that last question because I fully realize how challenging a dream and a calling that is. What is needed is a new mindfulness of the value of Creation to God that is integrated into worship, culture, and the lives of Christians. We should have a hunger and a thirst for righteousness and justice for all that has breath. Christians and the Church should desire with all our hearts to be wholly holy.
That doesn’t happen overnight, especially when there are hundreds of years of history and tradition that lead believers and churches in the other direction.
I had a good conversation several weeks ago at another church with a friendly couple after the service. When they asked what I do, I told them of the non-profit I work for that, among other things, promotes sustainable farming. They were very interested. As the conversation unfolded, I learned that the husband had written a dissertation on the linkages between certain farm chemicals and Parkinson’s disease. Farm workers and families living close to fields where those chemicals were used were shown to be at higher risk for developing that debilitating disease of the central nervous system.
I later brought up the link I saw between the Christian faith and how followers of Jesus should treat and care for God’s world. The couple seemed genuinely surprised to hear me say that there might be a linkage. “I hadn’t thought about that before,” one said.
I fervently pray that there will be a day when anyone who hears the assertion that one of the fruits of the Christian faith is a mindful, loving stewardship of the world will, because of the teaching they have heard and the actions of Christians they know, have this quick and automatic response:
“Of course! How could it be otherwise?”