For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans 1:20, New Living Translation)
Last weekend, I attended a meeting of outdoor educators at a Mennonite camp to prepare for upcoming visits by several inner-city schools. During these visits, the children will experience Creation in new ways, and will perhaps catch a glimpse of the Creator in the process. A school counselor reminded us of the fears that some will have as they disembark their buses and step into the woods. Many of them face far more dangerous situations daily, yet the natural world can seem an alien place, with unfamiliar smells, sights, and sounds.
Unfamiliarity with nature is not limited to inner-city children, however. Author Richard Louv has written movingly of what he has termed "nature-deficit disorder," a growing lack of contact with and connection to the natural world in today's children. He identifies many causes: traffic, the lack of safe places to play, working parents, electronic media, hyper-scheduled lives, etc. According to Louv, "Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience their neighborhoods and the natural world has changed radically. Even as children and teenagers become more aware of global threats to the environment, their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. As one suburban fifth grader put it to me, in what has become the signature epigram of the children-and-nature movement: 'I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are.'" (1)
While Louv lists many benefits of spending time in nature, he does not mention what to Christians may be the most important benefit: Creation reminds us of our Creator God and of our status as created beings. Through Creation, as stated in the Romans passage above, people can clearly see God's power and divine nature. We have a responsibility to care for this earth that God has created so carefully and called "good," to leave it in good enough condition that it will continue to point future generations to God.
Which brings me to Earth Day (April 22). While some Christians dismiss Earth Day, and indeed much of the environmental movement, as something better left to tie-dyed hippies and Gaia-worshipers, I believe that the church ought to embrace Earth Day as a day to celebrate and care for Creation.
Earth Day is the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than half a billion people in 175 countries since 1970. Wikipedia describes the environmental situation at that time: "…Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Environment was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news. But Earth Day 1970 turned that all around."
We made some progress in living wisely on the earth since that first Earth Day. But how long we will be able to continue such progress if our children are not learning to care about Creation? It is human nature to want to protect the things we care about. How will we foster caretaking of the environment if we don't get our children-and ourselves-outdoors to learn to appreciate Creation, and to recognize it not just as a pretty picture in a geography book or video, but as something essential to our wellbeing and indeed to our very life itself?
Fortunately, the cure for nature-deficit disorder is simple, and it is my Earth Day challenge to you: follow the lead of those inner-city youth and get yourself outdoors, somewhere with green, growing things. Take a walk, ride a bike, plant a seed, listen to birdsong. Smell the flowers. Be amazed by the diversity of all that God has created, and the way that God has so intricately woven together the life cycles and environments of each living thing, providing precisely what each one needs. And consider how you will respond and care for this marvelous gift--on Earth Day and every day.
(1) Louv, Richard. "Leave No Child Inside," Orion Magazine, March/April 2007. <http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/240/>
Earth Day Resources
Earth: It's Our Home posters by Merrill Miller, created for PeaceSigns in 2004
Creation Care Resources: