Archives For Christians to Know

Sometimes you come upon a book or an article or even just a quotation that captures a truth or insight that you’ve long been sensing but have been unable to put your finger on exactly.

I came upon an interview with Ken Myers on The Christian Post website that did just that.

Here’s how the introductory text to the interview describes Myers: “Myers is the founder and host of MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, a bimonthly audio magazine featuring interviews with some of today’s foremost Christian thought leaders in academics, politics, and the arts. The mission: “To assist Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of contemporary culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement.” Myers, a former NPR reporter, is himself a thoughtful social critic who thinks deeply about the interplay between the church and the larger world.”

Another good profile of Ken Myers can be found here.

Here’s one section of the interview that especially stood out:

CP: What is the biggest challenge facing the church today?

Myers: It’s not “the culture,” as we often hear, that poses the most significant challenge for the church today. It’s the culture of the church.

What I mean is, we have reduced the Gospel to an abstract message of salvation that can be believed without having any necessary consequences for how we live. In contrast, the redemption announced in the Bible is clearly understood as restoring human thriving in creation.

Redemption is not just a restoration of our status before God through the life and work of Jesus Christ, but a restoration of our relationship with God as well. And our relationship with God is expressed in how we live. Salvation is about God’s restoring our whole life, not just one invisible aspect of our being (our soul), but our life as lived out in the world in ways that are in keeping with how God made us. The goal of salvation is blessedness for us as human beings. In other words, we are saved so that our way of life can be fully in keeping with God’s ordering of reality.

Here’s another:

If congregations in America were deeply and creatively committed to nurturing the culture of the city of God in their life together, I think it would have an inexorable effect on the lives of our neighbors. But I fear that too many churches are shaping people to be what Kenda Creasy Dean calls being “Christianish” – or not deeply Christian at all. The more faithful we are in living out the ramifications of a Christian understanding of all things, the more out-of-synch we will be in American culture. But why should we wish for anything else? What can we offer the world if we are just like the world?

Interestingly enough, many top businesses view the culture of their organizations as a vital factor in whether they will be ultimately successful or not. One article even calls on business leaders to be “cultural warriors.”

A great example of the difference a distinct and dynamic organization culture can make is Southwest Airlines. Here’s an insightful interview with Dave Ridley, a former executive at Southwest Airlines and a Christian, who talks about the dynamic, employee-focused culture of Southwest Airlines. At one point Ridley highlights the fact that Southwest Airlines is obviously not a Christian organization, and “Yet the culture (of Southwest Airlines) is very reflective of what one would hope to see – but often is not seen – in organizations that claim to have the gospel at their core (including lots of churches unfortunately).”

I’ve come away more convinced than ever that church leaders need to be energetically, thoughtuflly, and artfully shaping the culture of their churches. Designing worship services to reflect a whole faith is just one step that needs to be taken.

In a previous post, I began to look more closely at John 3:16 as a way to wrestle with this question: how are you and I to think about how the Gospel in the New Testament relates to how we relate to God’s earth? This iconic verse that is everywhere is, I’ve found, rarely understood in its full meaning. In this post, we continue to look closely at John 3:16.

We’re so quick to jump to conclusions, aren’t we?

When we come to John 3:16, we rush through its rhythm and ideas, knowing that it ends happily with eternal life. And we rush, too, to the automatic assumption that “eternal life” is talking about life after death.

The grammar of the verse tells us otherwise. And I’ve never appreciated grammar more than when I first understood from David Pawson’s uneven book Is John 3:16 the Gospel? (and confirmed by other sources) that traditional translations of the verse typically get the verse subtly wrong because they don’t convey the subtleties of the grammar.

Pawson explains that the Greek language has more nuance in its tenses than in English. A crucial distinction is whether a verb indicates continuous action or action that occurs and is then over at a single point in time.

The “believe” in “everyone who believes in him” is actually in the present continuous tense. So that portion of the verse literally means “everyone who goes on believing in him.”

The “have” in “have eternal life” is also in the present continuous tense.

So the real translation of this portion of the verse would be… “everyone who goes on believing in him will go on having eternal life.”

Later in John 10:10 we come again to this idea of eternal, abundant life which we will go on having.  Of the many ways there are to translate it, I like the New Century Version best. It reads: “A thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I came to give life — life in all its fullness.”

This idea of God offering a full and good life also hearkens back to Psalm 16:11: “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

Things get even more interesting when you look at “eternal.” Pawson notes that scholars are debating exactly what “eternal” means in this context. Some believe it relates to quantity – in other words something infinite without end. But others believe it relates to quality – “..life of a quality that makes every moment worthwhile.” Pawson writes, “I think the answer is both quantity and quality of life.”

The implications from understanding these elements of the verse more fully are profound:

First, we need to go on believing in Jesus and through Jesus in the God who Jesus reveals and the framework for what Jesus is all about from the Bible. As we highlighted in the last blog on this topic, this believing in is not about an intellectual assent to an idea but it’s putting the full weight of how we live our lives and what commit our heart to. It’s not a once-and-done situation. It’s entirely possible for us to stop believing.

Second, when we go on believing, we will go on having eternal life. Eternal life does not begin when we die. It begins now and continues through and past our death.

Third, eternal life is not an escape from this world but a radical engagement with it and a radical enlivening of ourselves that begins to give us the true life we were meant to have.

What does that eternal life, the eternal that we can go on having now and forever by continuing to believe in Jesus, look like? Here is my take on that from what I’ve read, seen, and experienced:

Beginning to know the majesty and mystery of God.

Knowing each of us matter and that we are loved by God.

Knowing how much God hates evil in all its forms.

Knowing that our past sins are forgiven, that death and evil are not to be feared, and that God can give us the power to overcome our ongoing habits of sin.

Seeing the God-given value of people and all of Creation.

Finding purpose in using our unique talents and creativity to share God, mend the woundedness of people and Creation, fight evil, and create joy.

Sharing and giving.

Finding peace and strength.

Being filled with the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Becoming part of a larger whole – God’s kingdom and the Church – and knowing that the good we do is part of a large movement.

Being called to forgive and being able to do so.

Knowing what matters and what doesn’t.

Jesus came not just to avoid sinning and be the perfect sacrifice for our sin but to also model for us what this eternal life in God looks like and is to be lived. This is why we are called to make disciples of all people.

I can’t help but mention, and this may reveal my Norwegian-American Lutheran background, that there is little sense in the Bible that following God’s ways will automatically translate into perpetual happiness, at least not in the light and fluffy sense of the word. There will be suffering. We will be called to do hard things. Rosa Parks and Willliam Wilberforce are just two examples of people whose Christian faiths called them to difficult paths that did not translate into casual happiness.

In fact, if our lives are easy and comfortable all the time and we fit in perfectly with the general culture around us, then we’re probably not living a complete Christian life. We’re probably following a Gospel that doesn’t reflect the present continuous tense.

We see the whole context of what experiencing true and ongoing eternal life is all about at the beginning of Genesis and at the end of Revelation – God, people, and Creation together in the relationship they were meant to have.

In this sense, life in all its fullness that we begin to grow into through ongoing faith in Jesus cannot help but lead to a different relationship with God, people, and God’s earth.

You need to know about Joel Salatin and his new book The Marvelous Pigness of PigsIf you aren’t already familiar with Joel, here’s how the book jacket describes him:

“Joel Salatin is a third generation farmer who works with his family on their farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  The Salatin Polyface Farm is internationally known for innovative pastured livestock and services more than 5,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs.”

That’s the farming side of Joel. Joel was, in fact, the featured sustainable farmer in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma which has helped shape a new consciousness of what of our food system is and what it should be.

Here’s how the website of his new book’s publisher describes him and the message of his tenth book:

“Joel Salatin is perhaps the nation’s best known farmer, whose environmentally friendly, sustainable Polyface Farms has been featured in Food, Inc. and Time magazine. Now in his first book written for a faith audience, Salatin offers a deeply personal argument for earth stewardship, and calls for fellow Christians to join him in looking to the Bible for a foodscape in line with spiritual truth. Salatin urges Christians to rethink America’s allegiance to cheap corporate food that destroys creation in its production, impoverishes third world countries, and supports oligarchical interests. He wonders why Christians ignore and even revel in unhealthy eating habits and factory farming that runs counter to God’s design. With scripture and Biblical stories, Salatin presents an alternative and shows readers that in appreciating the pigness of pigs, we celebrate the Glory of God.”

The shortest and best way to think about Joel is in his own terms. He calls himself a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer.

He’s someone you should know. He’s a Christian changing God’s world for the better.

Pigness-Cover jpg

The following are a sampling of his words from his book. You’ll be struck by his unique voice and earthy, faith-centered perspective on food and our food system.

When we’re more interested in dysfunctional Hollywood celebrity culture or the Little League program than we are about what is going to become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, we voluntarily place ourselves into the corporate food agenda. That agenda is decidedly nutrient deficient, price inappropriate, and anti-community based. It promotes centralization, customer ignorance, and a mechanical view of life.

Things that the religious right would abhor if they were promoted by churches are embraced warmly in the food system. While preachers rail against bringing junk into our homes via TV, the Internet, and pornographic literature, few bat an eye at a home stashed with high fructose corn syrup, potato chips, and Pop-Tarts, indeed, some even suggest that the cheaper we eat, the more money we’ll have to put in the offering plate. And to top it off, they denigrate anyone who would suggest part of caring for children is caring about what they eat. (pp. 80-81)

And..

The problem is we Christians do not trust God’s plan. We don’t. Oh, we trust it when it comes to matters of spirituality. But we think God’s plan is broken – along with mainstream scientists of our day – when it comes to physical things. The result is that we Christians marching off to sanctity-of-life rallies send our kids off to college to get a good enough education to go work for a multinational corporation dedicated to adulterating God’s creation.

I would suggest that a God-honoring farm is one that shows strength rather than weakness. It’s one that has no veterinary bills. It’s one that has healthy plants and animals. It’s one that produces food that develops healthier people. This is not a health-and-wealth message.  It is ultimately a humility-and-dependence message. God’s designs work. (p. 68)

And..

The whole idea of pornography, which of course the Christian community universally condemns, is instant and expedient gratification of a sacred act sanctified by marriage. Where is the Christian who dares to identify the pornographic food system that revels in death-inducing, sickness-encouraging, and creation-destroying orgies of self-indulgence? Strong language? Have you walked into a confinement factory chicken house lately? How about a confinement hog factory? Just like pornography disrespects and cheapens God-given and -sanctioned specialness in sex, factory-farmed hog houses disrespect and cheapen the God-sculpted specialness of pigs. (p. 133)

 

It’s a simple but counterintuitive finding.

As Cal Newport tells it in Deep Work, when University of Chicago colleagues Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Reed Larson invented a psychological testing technique called the experience sampling method, they were eager to find out what kinds of activities truly gave people joy and fulfillment.

The experience sampling method involved giving test subjects a pager and then randomly paging the subjects during a day. When they were paged, the subjects were to immediately record what they were doing and what their feelings were. This method, as opposed to relying on test subjects to keep a diary on their own throughout a day, was found to be far more effective in prompting people to accurately document the connection between different kinds of activities and their state of mind.

Here is what Csikzentmihalyi wrote of their fundamental finding:

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s mind or body is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

This prompted him to write the book Flow about that particular state of being. Flow I

Our instincts, of course, are to seek happiness and contentment in relaxation, fun, and doing as little as possible. There is, of course, nothing wrong with relaxing. We need downtime. Even the occasional binge watching of a TV series. Yet, being fully engaged in something – physical training, carrying out a challenging work project, figuring out a complex jigsaw puzzle – that pushes us and stretches us is actually an essential ingredient of a full life.

This, interestingly enough, is what the whole Christian life offers.

When, with God’s help, we commit ourselves to living out God’s love and purposes in all phases of our lives and the life of the world, we are immersed in something both challenging and worthwhile. This will translate into new consciousness of our choices and our habits every day of our life. It may mean taking on projects and challenges at a larger scale. These projects or challenges may well be way beyond what we believe we can handle with the skills and experience we’ve developed on our own.

This is what I believe the Jesus was talking about when he talked about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. He modeled it for us. Committing ourselves to it, paradoxically, can give us our best moments in life. Not necessarily easy. Or relaxing. But it can make us fully alive to who we should be.

This is what I would call the “kingdom flow.”

A great example is Bob Muzikowski. As he describes it, he was saved and made sober on the same day. When he subsequently moved to Chicago from New York to get away from reminders of his former drinking life, he started a little league on the city’s troubled Near West Side that attracted, to his amazement, 300 youth the very first time he put out notices about it.

His dive into a larger purpose did not end there. His professional life continued in the financial world until he began to talk deeply with Bob Buford and then joined the Halftime Institute when Buford launched it. In this process, Muzikowski found that he continued to be drawn to the needs of the communities he had experienced through the Near West Little League he had helped establish. So he gave up his comfortable financial career to convert an abandoned Catholic elementary school on the Near West side into the Chicago Hope Academy, a college and life preparatory high school with a strong Christian faith element. Muzikowski purposefully developed it to be more affordable for poor and minority youth than typical private high schools. He also recruits the best teachers he can find from around the country.

This has not been easy work.

“If I hadn’t had a Halftime journey, my life would have been easier and less stressful today,” Muzikowski says, “but it would definitely be a lot more shallow.”

Not everyone may feel the calling to do something that meaningful on that scale. But in every life I am convinced there are needs and purposes that God is offering us to be engaged with and choices to make every day. Responding will move us beyond our own interests and needs while tapping the talents and skills we have and even those we don’t know we have.

When we move from faith in God and what God offers to us through Jesus to a deep commitment to living with God’s purposes firmly in mind every moment, we go from getting to the starting line to actually running the race of which the Apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9:23-25.

This is an essential point of what I mean by the phrase “whole faith.” When Jesus said he was the way, the truth, and the life, he was not pointing only to life after death. He was, as I understand it, pointing to a true life that begins when we synch our lives with God’s purposes. That true life begins in the here and now, and that God-filled life will never end. After death, it will be even more glorious and complete. This is the new and abundant life that Jesus promised. Being in this kingdom flow give us the sense of flow and challenging, immersive purpose that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described.

Our churches should help us understand this and develp the kingdom flow in our lives.

I know I need that help at times. The brokeness of the world, incuding the dysfunction of how we treat God’s earth, is at times overwhelming. When I don’t hear churches calling us to bring God’s kingdom into this world to the best degree possible, I am dismayed. I even find myself questioning my faith.

But when I come across Christians like Bob Muzikowski, my spirits rebounds, and my faith grows. I am encouraged, too, that there are growing numbers of Christians in the kingdom flow who are working in their own ways to change how we treat God’s earth in the process of growing food from it. Like Bob Muzikowski, they have taken on missions that are challenging and require of them tremendous sacrifice. Gabe Brown, Joel Salatin, and Ray Archuleta are just some of them.

The testimonies of their lives and the impacts of their lives say a great deal about what the whole Gospel offers to you and the world and about its truth beyond its words.

Steve Barg is an example of a Christian working to protect and renew God’s earth through a career in land conservation. I worked for Steve for ten years when he was the executive director of Conserve Lake County, a non-profit organization based in Grayslake, Illinois. He had come to that position after using his gifts as an environmental educator for the Park District of Highland Park as well as for Lake Forest Open Lands. Steve is a dear friend who has a contagious enthusiasm for the beauty of the living world around us, particularly for birds. He and his wife Susan now live in Elizabeth, Illinois, in Jo Daviess County, which is at the northwest corner of the Prairie State.

Steve Barg, Executive Director of the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation

Steve Barg, Executive Director of the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation

Nathan: Can you tell me about your current profession and the kinds of projects you and your organization area currently working on?

Steve: I serve as executive director of the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation (JDCF). JDCF’s mission is to preserve land for the lasting well-being of people and wildlife. This includes protecting high quality wildlife habitat for rare species, scenic overlooks, working lands and Native American Heritage sites and providing public access to these sites. We have a staff of 10, eight full-time and two part-time. It’s interesting – there’s no local government entity that preserves open land and make it available to the public. So, as a non-profit, we serve a unique and valuable role for the county in terms of acquisition, creating access, and opening the preserves to the public.

But we also do a lot more. We also rally communities around conservation projects and engaging people on the land and with the land. One example is the Wapello Preserve in Hanover. Hanover’s a town of 800 that is suffering and depressed like a lot of small towns in Middle America. They were, as a community, dead set against us coming in and purchasing land. They didn’t know who we were and what we did. I wasn’t there at the time, but Christie (our staff point person on the project at the time) tells me that at the first few meetings they had with the community, around 200 people filled the community center. They came mostly because they were curious but a lot of them were anti-conservation. We heard things like: “You’re taking land off the tax rolls.” “It’s good farmland.” “What do you want to do with this land?” And now, eight years later, the community fully embraces this preserve. They have a Friends of Wapello Preserve volunteer group that stewards the property and wants to do more. They even want to build an interpretive center next to the property.

I’m also proud of the work we’re doing to preserve Native American heritage sites, which is something that not every land conservation group does. There are lots of sites along the Mississippi and Apple Rivers – burial grounds, effigy mounds, village sites, and ceremonial sites. There is a rich history here of people living on the land.

And the Driftless area is just a beautiful landscape and certainly a place worthy of protection. We’re part of the Upper Mississippi River Blufflands Alliance, a group of land trusts that works in the Driftless area. It’s a neat collaboration that’s developed out of that.

Nathan: What inspired you to pursue a career in conservation? And how did that relate to your Christian faith? Was there a connection?

Steve:  It was probably my great-grandfather, my mother, and my father. They were the three influencers in my life. My great-grandfather introduced me to gardening and working in the soil. My mother just loved birds, and we lived right next to a field that had lots of birds. We always had binoculars on the dining room table along with a bird book. And my father just loved to camp and be outdoors and loved the North Woods but liked open space near home, too.

I would say right off the bat I don’t ever remember not understanding that there was a connection between the natural world and my belief in a created world. I think that understanding became more consciously alive when those beliefs were challenged by a professor in college who was clearly not Christian and in fact blamed the Christian faith for a lot of the degradation of the environment, at least in the United State and the Western hemisphere.

Susan and I have always been open to people staying with us. We had a “missionary kid” from France – Keith Schuler – stay with us for a year while he attended the grad program at Aurora University where I was also going to school, We did Bible studies together, and he really challenged me and I challenged him to really explore our faith and our environmental interests. I think we were both feeling angst inside, a dissonance. We were committed to both an environmental ethic and a Christian life, and we saw those at odds in a lot of ways.

Nathan: So how did your Christian faith shape how you approach conservation and you lead the organizations that you’ve led?

Steve: I think it’s given me a rootedness and a purpose in what I’m doing and a feeling like there’s a bigger thing going on than just preserving land or getting people engaged in the land. There’s certainly a faith element for me. It’s just deep in my bones that this world was created for life. I love all the different forms of life. I’m saddened and diminished when life is degraded. That’s just deep in me.

Nathan: Steve, one of the things that stood out for me working for you was that you really embraced the spirit of each person you worked with, whether it was a staff member or a landowner or a board member. There was this openness and this humility that you had. I think people sensed that this guy has integrity. This person cares a lot. He’s passionate about what he believes. You brought together professional skill but also heart. When your heart is shaped by God in Christ I think it resonates in a way that people pick up even if it’s not on a conscious frequency. I think that really came through loud and clear from you.

Steve: I guess I know a lot of non-Christians who are also passionate and deeply caring and who are authentic people. Again, for me and for other Christians, there’s a purpose there. I believe we’re called to care for Creation, to care for one another, to care for our neighbors as ourselves, and my belief is that our neighbors are all living things. So for me that’s where I believe the rootedness and the purpose stand out in a different way than just passion and heart. I think you’ve seen that, too, in people you’ve worked with. There’s a different center to our approach to work.

Nathan: What parts of the Bible have been most inspiring to you as they relate to your life in general and to your conservation convictions in particular?

Steve: I’m never good with memorizing verses but certainly the first few chapters of Genesis say so much about Creation and its goodness and its wholeness. What really stands out are the big themes. That God created the world. That it was good. That we sinned and turned away from God. That we live in a broken world and that brokenness is between you and me, between us and God, and between us and Creation. So I see that brokenness in all of those relationships. Part of that is really painful because I feel like it doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t fix it. On the other hand, I also feel that God calls us to mend broken relationships and reconcile broken relationships and love one another. And that’s never going to be perfect either, and yet that’s what he calls us to do. I don’t know where this all ends other than God’s promise that He’ll make everything right. But sometimes you look at things like climate change and human population growth – not a lot of hope there.

Nathan: What are some of the challenges you struggle with as someone who believes that how we treat God’s earth really matters?

Steve: Not finding a home or identity in the church and always feeling a bit like an outlier. And not knowing how to change that. It frustrates me and it’s discouraging that the Church hasn’t been more outspoken. You and I have spoken about this – you can liken it to the Church’s response to slavery or the response to civil rights in the 1960s. Where is the Church in those big issues of our recent history? And where was the Church in our treatment of Native Americans? Yes, in our history you’ll find incredible stories of Christian brothers and sisters fighting against the odds and being beacons of light. But you don’t see a whole Church response. It’s frustrating.

Nathan: Amen. Can you share with me a story or a moment in your life that made you think, “This is what it’s all about”? Not theory. Not theology. Just a moment that struck your heart.

Steve: Truthfully, those things happen regularly to me. Where I’m living now I hear and see pileated woodpeckers daily. I hear and see eagles daily. I hear and see owls almost daily. I have woodcocks doing their sky display outside my back door. I have bluebirds all over the place. That’s what I love about where I’m living now. I feel like there’s hope there. There’s diversity there. But I’ll share two specific moments.

One is just an ethereal moment canoeing on the Wisconsin River in October. We were camped on an island, and large flocks of sandhill cranes came in about dusk. We saw them flying over and heard them land down river where we were headed the next day. I happened to be reading Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. I was reading about October, and a lot of the things he was talking about were happening. I was hearing things or seeing things or smelling things that he was writing about because we were right near where he had been writing those things. The next morning several of us got up before the sunrise and got into the canoe with flashlights and got into the water right as dawn was coming. We were in a pea soup fog. How weird it was to be on a big river in a pea soup fog because you had no idea where the shore was. You had no idea if there were any obstacles in front of you. And then all of a sudden we realized we were in the midst of a huge flock of sandhills standing in shallow water all around us. We just took the paddles out of the water and floated with the current. It was eerily quiet. The birds were these shadowy figures. And then one started trumpeting and another and another and then within fifteen seconds the whole group was trumpeting and it was loud and raucous.

Then they all took off, and they were out of sight in a second or two because it was so foggy, but you could hear them rise. It was almost as if you could hear them when they got out of the fog that was in the valley and were then in the sunlight. They had been in the same situation we were – they couldn’t see anything – and then all of a sudden they could. It was just magical. It felt spiritual. It felt wonderful. Maybe that’s why it’s stayed with me.

Steve on the Mississippi River near Hanover, Illinois, with his daughter Hannah and wife Susan in the background.

Steve on the Mississippi River near Hanover, Illinois, with his daughter Hannah. Steve’s wife, Susan, is in the background.

I think the other one had to do with my son Aaron’s death and grieving and healing and how that was connected to the land and how all that came together for me at Aaron’s Prairie (a piece of open land that Conserve Lake County came to own just north of Libertyville). It was a time when I felt dead spiritually, physically. That winter morning, you and other staff from Conserve and myself went out and spread prairie plant seeds on the ground as part of the restoration of the land back to natural habitat. I could barely walk from side to side because I was so physically spent. And just that metaphor of the prairie returning to what it used to be and my grief seeing that there was hope in those seeds – it was just a very powerful metaphor for my own healing. That was so human. That was you and me and Sarah and Tim and Cathy being a community with the land. That was a very meaningful group for me. It is still a deeply meaningful place for me. There was a very interesting whole connection of life there – the human, the spiritual, the land, the plants, the animals – that felt good at a time when I was lost.

Nathan: What you would like to see Christians do in their lives and through their churches to be better stewards of God’s earth?

Steve: You can’t be stewards of God’s earth unless you understand you’re stewards of God’s earth.

I went up to this program at Sinsinawa, a Dominican Sister’s place in Wisconsin. It’s on a geologic mound called Sinsinawa Mound. It stands out from the landscape. It’s visible even from where we live in Illinois. They were doing a series on contemplative ecology, and the first workshop was just reading and reflection during a full-day retreat. One activity involved eight short readings – each a paragraph long – and you were supposed to walk around and read each selection, silently but with the group. You were then to write your reflections in your journal. And one of the readings was about stewardship not being enough, that thinking of ourselves as stewards of God’s Creation is custodial rather than an all-in commitment. It made me start thinking about that word “stewardship.” Is it full enough? And I don’t think it is.

So I’ll end with this. A lot of the Dominican sisters come to this place called Sinsinawa. They’re women in their retired years who have lived a life of service, who are very liberal thinkers, who openly question the Catholic Church at every turn, who are progressive people. If I could go to church like the two experiences I’ve had there, that would be wonderful. There’s this huge, round, beautiful church building. It’s interestingly designed. There’s also a really interesting mix of people grounded in faith, people open to questioning their faith, people who are committed to the environment, people who are committed to art and literature and music. One of the things they did before I went to this class was they spent four weeks looking at Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. That milieu felt right for me.

But I don’t think I’ve answered your question.

Nathan: Not really, but I think I can find a question that that would be the answer for. (Laughter) Is there anything you’d encourage Christians to do?

Steve: Get involved with the land. Start a garden. Help restore a piece of land. I think that’s a start. Get your hands in the earth.