Earth Day won’t save us
Editor's note: This piece originally ran in 2011, when Earth Day fell on Good Friday.
When I was little, I had a strange obsession with the environment. I collected animal stickers, watched endless documentaries on the Discovery Channel and stayed up late at night worrying about the rain forest. It was a strange concern, one that made my parents and schoolteachers call me “mature for my years.”
But my concern, as I see it now, was the development of guilt, the anxiety that I continue to carry: How could I learn about oil spills and endangered species at school and not do anything? How could I be so helpless? I even spent a whole Earth Day cleaning up the field behind my backyard, ripping buried plastic bags from the dirt, my back and hands aching from the unending task. And at the end of the day, I looked over the field and thought, “I did a good job. I did something.”
If I were to return to that field, I know that the cleaning I did years ago would be for nothing – bags and trash would be everywhere. And to be honest, I wouldn’t care that much. The environment feels huge to me, a problem that is too big for my small attempts to go green – my biodegradable laundry detergent cannot face the BP oil spill.
My can-do attitude has lapsed into apathy, and as Earth Day cycles itself into the church calendar, I’m left thinking about Christ, the church, my response to the earth, to creation.
I’m left thinking about Christ because, this year, Good Friday and Earth Day fall on the same day. I do not want to launch myself into some feel-good spirituality, wondering how I can renew my earlier commitment to the earth on a day of repentance and remembrance. I do not want to slide into the language of Earth Day’s organizers, who tell me to “discover energy” within myself – fight climate change, rally the troops, pick up trash.
I picked up trash as a child because the enormity of sin terrified me. Here was a brokenness that I didn’t understand, a field that no amount of back-breaking work could clean. A heart that no amount of my own effort could make whole. What breaks the creation – and what breaks me – is sin, its absolute pervasive nastiness, a dark streak running down the middle of me, spilling across the Louisiana gulf, piling in our landfills.
Living greenly and caring for the environment are good, moral things to do. It is irresponsible and sinful for us to pretend that this world doesn’t matter.
But it is also sinful to believe that my efforts, or the efforts of collective humanity, are the answer to creation’s ills. If, as Paul writes, the creation “groans” for redemption, part of our work as disciples is to see our efforts as part of that groaning, that yearning, for Christ’s return. Christ died for the greed that created the BP oil spill and Christ rose for a new heavens and a new earth. The work of discipleship is to ask God’s Spirit to continually transform us, and to help us hope and work for the coming of God’s kingdom. Can picking up trash be a dual act of repentance and hope?
If Good Friday is cosmic in scope, and if the Spirit empowers us to live as God’s people, then attempts to care for the creation must be seen as signs of that coming kingdom, which will truly make all things new. On Good Friday, may we groan with all creation, our hearts weeping with the trees and stones, who, for Christ, have the sense to sing.Comments (8)