If you know Regent College, then you know LOREN WILKINSON. The now emeritus professor of interdisciplinary studies and philosophy at the West Coast theological school is known for creation care, and instilling that love in generations of students. Making Peace With Creation is his new DVD release, created with students, that explores how central that is to the well-lived Christian life. Faith Today spoke with the poet and theologian.
Faith Today: In Making Peace With Creation, you say that the way we view creation has radical implications for how we live in the world. Tell us about that.
Loren Wilkinson: There are two sets of texts in Genesis 1 and 2 which are often quoted – that we are given dominion or power – and yet that is modified in Genesis 2 by saying that this power needs to be exercised in care and keeping of creation.
The foundational picture of our place in the world is that we are called not to own it, not to simply use it as resources, but to care for it. That works out in everything we do. To use creation in a way that doesn’t diminish it, but if possible makes us even more aware of what a miracle and gift it is.
It should make us aware of the impact on creation of everything we do and use. Our food, the way we build our cities, our transportation. The biggest thing now in the whole world is how the use of fossil fuels has changed the atmospheric content and the acidity of the oceans. It’s easier to prove the connection between human activity and that, than global warming, actually. In the U.S. something like 80 per cent of evangelical Christians just don’t believe in global warming.
FT: Why do you think there is a wariness within some parts of the evangelical community about things like climate change?
LW: I think there are two things going on. One is just a general suspicion of science, which is deeply unfortunate. Science has complex origins, but it grew partly out of a Christian understanding of creation. It’s tragic that science has come to be seen as a suspicious enemy. Somehow in conservative Christian culture a deep suspicion of science has arisen.
There’s a larger issue, a more complicated one that has to do with the culture wars, the idea that is so obvious in what is unfolding south of the border – that there are certain ideas and problems considered to be legitimate Christian concerns, like abortion and pornography, but then there are other concerns like justice for the poor that might even be far more central in the biblical picture, but are seen as problems for Democrats and not conservative Christians. There is a tragic division there. We assume to be Christian is to have one set of concerns and the other set of concerns are for people who are liberal. The climate change issue is squarely there for whatever interesting historical issues. I think it is deeply tragic.
FT: There are of course conservative Christians who care for the poor and creation, but we hear you. Is there a way to convince the reluctant parts of our community to care more?
LW: It’s the same [thing] that Ron Sider pursued when he began to be concerned about hunger issues [Sider published Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger in 1978 and is still a prominent Christian activist]. He was able to bring Evangelicals along by simply showing that it was a central biblical issue, not a fringe issue that we’re just trying to get Evangelicals to help with. It is driven by Scripture and an understanding of what it means to be redeemed humans here.
We must restore a better understanding of what the whole biblical story is all about. Our place in the world is much bigger than simply telling others how to be saved. Being saved involves a task in creation. We are saved for creation, not from creation. But often that is how it is presented.
As someone has said we tend to leave off the first two chapters and the last two [of the Bible]. The last two talk about a restored creation, the City of God coming to a restored Earth, and the first two are linked back to a good creation at the beginning, yet much of our faith has been kind of gnostic, leading us away from an embodied existence.
The answer is to make it clear to people that the concern for things like climate change and environmental issues generally is not an ideologically driven thing. It should be a theologically driven thing. It is very close to the centre of our faith. It is what we are here for. One of my pet peeves is we talk about Christian environmental things, but we are talking about creation. We’ve almost spoiled the doctrine of creation with arguments about how God did it and when God did it, when the doctrine of creation is much bigger than that.
FT: Other writers have talked about things like "nature deficit disorder," that in fact we need to be in nature and closer to creation so we can be truly happy and healthy.
LW: One of my worries about [our new] film, and a comment that comes up, is that it can give the impression that the solution to the problem is everyone should move out to a place like Galiano Island and leave the cities. That is not the case.
The cities have to be part of the solution, not a place to flee from. The problem is how we have built the cities, surrounding ourselves with increasingly manmade things, forgetting that our cities are nested within natural systems. They are nested within the natural world. We can do a lot better job of building our cities to remind us of that, in terms of green spaces and the way we lay things out.
Our cities sprawl. In some European cities that grew up before the car, it’s possible to walk out of a city into the country. Can you imagine walking out of Toronto into the country? Our cities insulate us. We need to recognize our cities are supported by natural systems, which are God’s good creation. And the problem expressed in nature deficit disorder is real and getting worse because of the spread of digital culture. The digital is overtaking the real.
It’s really quite serious. We are made to be in dialogue with nature. The human species was not created to be in cities, it was created in a dialogue with the natural world. All kinds of things about our bodily existence reflect that. A simple example would be the rhythm of day and night, which we can pretty much ignore now. The whole thrust of our culture is a movement away from that connection to the created world.
FT: What could churches in cities do to help with this problem?
LW: If churches have land around them, they should be concerned with gardens. Gardens are one of our main tasks. Instead of parking lots, it may be churches should spend more time not only on growing food, but making the place itself beautiful, especially some of the larger megachurches that are more concerned about covering the space with warehouse-like buildings and having parking.
Willow Creek [a megachurch near Chicago] is actually one of the better ones. There is a creek there and they’ve done a good job of taking care of it. Just as in our cities and our homes, we’ve often been led by a concern for efficiency that can rule out any concern for beauty, for openness to the natural world. We’ve done in churches even more so. We need to resist the tendency to give in to the artificial, the virtual.
I’m probably sounding cranky, but what happens in so many evangelical churches is even the ability to sing together has almost been eclipsed by highly amplified worship bands and leaders. People don’t know what it’s like to sing together with their bodies as instruments. That may seem like a long way away from care of the natural world, but I don’t think it is. An awful lot of evangelical churches encourage a kind of artificiality, the screen in the front, the worship band, often no windows, it is all part of a kind of movement away from a recognition that we are embodied creatures.
FT: In the film you also talk about eating together. How important is that?
LW: It is centrally important. You can hardly open the Bible without encountering food and agriculture. Meals are absolutely central, but also the relationship to the land, where our meals come from, is absolutely central. Eating is, probably short of breathing and drinking, our most obvious regular connection with creation in its diversity, its goodness, its value.
Just being aware of where your food comes from, and where your garbage goes, is central. We need nourishment, and a lot of people think of meals as only a way to get nourishment. But only humans feast. And only humans fast, both of which are tremendously significant things. Every meal is potentially a feast. We aren’t only eating – we are communing with each other.
Meals are a central act of Christian 2017worship, of human communion. Just as we’ve become disembodied digitally through our concern for the virtual world, we don’t eat together anymore. People don’t eat together, they don’t cook, and yet those things connect us with creation and with others.
We face each other at a meal, and that is the profound significance of sitting around a table. It’s no accident that the central act of Christian worship is a meal, although we have done our best in most Christian traditions to minimize the meal aspect. It’s clear it was a meal. That is of enormous and profound significance.
FT: Thank you, Loren.