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Creation Care for Non-Gardeners: First, You Have to Care

British Columbia annoyed me. Then it spoiled me.

I grew up on the Canadian Shield, a lovely giant geological horseshoe surrounding James Bay (at the southern end of Hudson’s Bay) of deep forests dotted by a million lakes on a bed of mineral-rich granite. Country so lovely that the Group of Seven and Tom Thompson immortalized it in paint.


My Ontario university, however, included some British Columbians in the student body. And they were insufferable, going on and on about the glories of their native province. Even their license plate motto was smug: “Beautiful British Columbia,” indeed.


I finally got to B.C. to visit a few years later. And I was aghast. It really was that beautiful.


Like trees? Coastal B.C., where I visited and then later lived for almost twenty years, is a temperate rain forest. My last property there alone had thirty gorgeous trees—mostly Douglas fir and hemlock, each of which was big enough to kill a house if it fell.


Flowers? My former Regent College colleague Maxine Hancock nicely used Vancouver in the springtime as it exploded with flowering trees and bushes on every block as a parallel to the New Jerusalem being a bride bedecked for her bridegroom.


Water? Mountains? Why not both? The mighty Fraser River and its many tributaries. Burrard Inlet and False Creek. Waterfalls on three—count ‘em, three—mountains within a half-hour’s drive of the city centre featuring ski hills, not to mention hiking and biking in every direction.


And then the bugs came to eat the trees: bugs that weren’t supposed to survive B.C. winters, and formerly didn’t, but now did, because the winters were warmer. Bugs that ruined whole hillsides, visible from the highway as massive golden-brown blights as one drove inland, over the coastal mountains toward vacation destinations like Kelowna and Vernon.


And then the fires came among the bug-weakened forests, fires of incomprehensible size, ferocity, and speed. Massive, sky-changing fires that kept us looking out our car windows as we drove back toward Vancouver from those vacations, wondering if the highway would be shut down and we would have to turn back—or be caught between fires.


(Have you ever come across a forest fire site? It’s horrifying. Even if no human beings were killed in it, it was Hiroshima for everyone else.)


Beautiful British Columbia on fire. It’s now June 2024, and another fire season has begun. How much more devastation can it take—along with the neighbouring prairie provinces and the northern territories?


On that Canadian Shield on which I grew up, we had water. Plenty of water, fresh and pure. Water so clean that you could drink the lake water you swam in. We did, just as our city drew its water supply from our lake with only minimal filtration.


Now I live in far eastern Canada in a province also blessed with water, both fresh and salt. The most popular seaside beach near my town, however, is regularly closed to swimming each summer.


The province professes utter mystification as to the source of the pollution. But cottagers are convinced that the province simply lacks enforced sewage guidelines for those living in the watershed and on the beach—including people running sewage lines directly into the bay—so that sewage overtaxes even the Northumberland Strait’s capacity to take it away.


Speaking of summertime and beaches, I love to grill, with beef, pork, and chicken regularly on the family menu. Having lived in Texas and Iowa, however, I have had occasion to visit “finishing” sites for both cattle and hogs. And I recall vividly passing on the highway a massive truck carrying tiny cages of chickens being toted to their doom. Factory farming remains, in the minds of many of us, a nightmare.


My more creation-conscious friends have all read Wendell Berry and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. (I’m sure those references are outdated, which kinda makes my point: I’m not that green.) They carefully compost, sort their recyclables, drive noble vehicles (or take public transit), and wear what one might magnanimously call distinctive clothes.


I, however, am no gardener. Or farmer. I don’t hug trees. I barely remember to water our household plants.


Sorting recycling seems, from what I’ve read, to be mere ecological theatre, since almost everything we send away gets thrown away into the landfill. Plastic seems still to me to be one of the world’s most brilliant inventions, and the cloth and paper bags that have returned to grocery and other stores to replace plastic bags irritate me yet.


So what does “creation care” have to do with someone like me? Let’s start by being honest.


Do I care? Should I care? Does it matter whether I care?


Since the Bible tells us literally on page one that God put human beings in charge of the world and commissioned us to look after it—well, then, yes, I suppose I should care.


And I did get anxious about those forests when I lived in B.C.


And I do think it’s revolting that Parlee Beach gets so gross that even the tourism-dependent province has to shut it down.


And I do hate the idea of animals suffering, especially since almost every cow, pig, and chicken I’ve ever met has seemed perfectly pleasant.


To care for creation, we have to care about creation. I suppose I do care. If you do, too, then this Mini-Course is designed to help.


Over a handful of posts, we’ll look at some basic questions, from “What is creation?” to “Why does it exist?” and from “Whose is it?” to “Where is it supposed to go?” We’ll look hard at the so-called creation commandment, or “cultural mandate,” given to the first humans by our Creator—and trace the implication of that Genesis word to the last words of Revelation.


We’ll then look at a popular Christian approach being advocated today by creation-focused writers and speakers. They try (spoiler: and fail) to use the Christological category of kenōsis (“self-emptying,” from Philippians 2) to describe how God relates, and thus also how we humans should relate, to the rest of creation.


We will pause to consider some basics of an outlook I call “evangelical realism” (an intentionally evangelical version of the ethical stance called “Christian realism”). We will acknowledge our involvement in unjust political, economic, and cultural regimes that can do creation some good even as they perpetuate despoliation and even the diversion of attention and resources away from solving problems. And we will set out a few key principles to guide our reflection specifically on creation care.


A positive creation-care ethic will conclude our Mini-Course, an ethic that will do as little harm and as much good as possible all things considered—and if that sounds like a heavily qualified, not-particularly-heroic ethic, then you’re hearing it right. But that’s what you’ll have to expect from an evangelical realist, and it might be the best way available until the Master Gardener returns once and for all.


Let’s roll up our sleeves, then, shall we?

[This is the first in a six-post Mini-Course called "Creation Care 101," available here.]

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