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I was invited into Creation Care ministry about twenty years ago. At the time, something about it felt right, intuitive, urgent even, something essential to my Christian calling.
Still, a question lingered: what is the relationship between creation care and Christian discipleship? Was addressing environmental issues central to following Jesus or was it peripheral? For many Christians, following Jesus means joining church or defending a sound theology. For them creation care is—essentially a hobby, an optional pursuit of an interest outside one’s regular vocation. My intuition was that Creation Care was more urgent than that.
To answer my question, I turned to Dietrich Bonhoeffer who tells us that Jesus is only known in following. He says that friends of Jesus aren’t asked to theologize, to join, even to organize—just to follow. They are invited to walk away from every life affirming instinct they have—mother/father, vocation, and state. Following is the heartbeat that circulates life in the body of Christ and, through the body of Christ, circulates life in the world.
Ched Myers is another theologian who has thought deeply about the meaning of following Jesus. In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, he argues that Mark structures his gospel in such a way as to challenge his readers to embrace the role of following Jesus.
Mark presents the story of Jesus and his disciples as an infinity loop. One loop follows Jesus and his disciples as they travel through Galilee, and the second loop follows them as they travel in and around Jerusalem. Myers illustrates the story telling sequence in each infinity loop with a pencil drawing. Story #1 in the Galilean loop is thematically matched to story #1 in the Jerusalem loop. As the stories progress, the thematic linkage between the two loops is visualized. To my eyes, the Myers’ sketch suggests a nature image—butterfly wings—the spotting and color bands of one wing mirroring the other.
Meyers highlights the post crucifixion appearance of an angel who says “…he is going ahead of you to Galilee…” For Jesus’ followers, their course on following is not over. There is no graduation, no diploma. It is not a linear movement; it is an infinity loop, a life-long call. They are to reenter the Galilean loop and begin again, but this time they follow Jesus in full possession of all their earlier experiences, the miracles and teaching in Galilee and the passion in Jerusalem. They have a grasp on what it means to follow Jesus.
At the point of intersection, the thorax of the butterfly, if you will, between the Galilean and Jerusalem loops in the Gospel of Mark is the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Ched Meyers argues that this placement of the story is significant but often overlooked. Mark wants us his readers to follow Jesus, but he knows as we travel between our own versions of the Galilean and Jerusalem loops that we will grow weary and our vision of Jesus walking with us will begin to fail. Like Bartimaeus, we will grow blind and need healing. With vision restored, we can see Jesus anew and begin to follow again.
As I ponder the insights of both Bonhoeffer and Myers, it strikes me that faith is all about bodies, the body of Jesus and the bodies of followers and that Jesus is leading his followers into a healing ministry for the body of the world.
Steven Chase, in his book Nature as Spiritual Practice, also takes up the theme of embodiment. He suggests that what God has done in the body of Jesus, God has done in the body of the world. The natural world is also a “way” in which all things work together for good; a way in which death and damage are absorbed, reprocessed, and returned again as life. Nature embodies God’s identity and intent and nature has a way of teaching—that is, if you can see it. Chase encourages meditation time spent in nature.
If Bonhoeffer is right, that Jesus is only known in following, then we need to follow him into those places where God is leading–where God is engaged in making all things new. In broken lives, yes. In broken politics, yes. In broken economic practice, yes. And in broken landscapes, too!
God’s own self is known to us through its embodied expressions—the created world and Jesus. But let me add disciples to the list. Disciples become members of the body of Christ. They follow Jesus but also call others to follow them. That’s good news.
So now twenty years later, this is what I think I know: Creation Care is not a subset of Christian living. Caring for creation is caring for God. And, caring for God is caring for creation.
In West Michigan, there’s a tradition which is practiced in the lakeshore campgrounds. Towards dusk, a migration begins—often with camera in hand. Campers, in anticipation of the sunset, are being drawn to the shoreline, to beauty, to holiness, to meaning. There’s something intuitive going on. Campers draw near because nature has the power to open our eyes, to speak to us as it has to our ancestors:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
An earlier version appeared in Salt & Light, a publication of Hope Church, Holland, Michigan.