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Posts Tagged ‘scripture

Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible and the Ecological Crisis by Patricia K. Tull, Westminster John Knox, 2013, 193 pp.

Inhabiting Eden book jacketThere are Christians who are passionate environmental activists, those who are mostly committed recyclers, and those who doubt  that their faith has much to do with the concern for the earth. No matter what your current attitude, this book is a great resource for you. Hebrew Bible scholar Trisha Tull (who also happens to be a neighbor and friend) has written a thoughtful, scriptural book intended to stimulate conversation about the connections between our Christian faith and concern for the well-being of our shared planet.  It is Tull’s depth and approach as a biblical scholar and theologian that makes this book so rich and helpful.

Tull starts in the most natural place–the story of creation in Genesis. This is well-covered territory when connecting the scriptures to concern for the environment. While Tull’s analysis adds richness to the conversation on Sabbath and the imago dei, it is in the subsequent chapters that the book adds the most to the ongoing conversation. Most Christian authors on this subject stop after the simple implication that God created us to care for the earth, and therefore we should. Tull digs deeper, and uncovers many layers of biblical treasures that inform and impact our relationship with the natural world.

For example, she moves immediately beyond the story of creation into Genesis 3-4, the story of the expulsion from the Garden and the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. She sees in the text the subtle language implying that the soil, the earth itself is damaged by these wounds, and she talks about the way God created human life to exist within limits–and the way we are punish and the earth hurts when we break those limits.

The subsequent chapters take on particular examples from scripture that pertain to consumerism, food systems, animal care, environmental justice, and climate change. However, rather than launching into a polemic about the environmental crises at hand, Tull starts with the biblical narrative and constructs a scriptural worldview. This is not a proof-text or an attempt to make a scriptural case for environmental causes. Instead, it is a conversation between the proper relationships laid out in the Bible governing human relationships with the earth, and the relationships we find ourselves living out here in the 21st century. The results are insightful and arresting–but not without hope.

One of the best examples in the book is the story of Naboth’s vineyard. Tull reminds us that the story is one where the poor man (Naboth) has his few possessions stripped away by the rich and powerful for their own pleasure and acquisition. Then she places that story alongside the poor communities today whose land, clean air and clean water are stripped away by wealthy corporations. She writes,

While environmental justice takes many forms, this chapter will reflect specifically on the modern Naboths who lose property and even health and life to more powerful neighbors, specifically to industries nearby whose toxic wast invades their air, water, soil and bodies. (115)

The scripture serves to illuminate the unjust relationship in our own world, to draw a narrative parallel rather than making a finger-wagging case.

Just a few pages later, Tull summarizes her own work in the book this way:

The question here is not whether Scripture yields exact parallels to contemporary dilemmas. Rather it is the extent to which we are at least living up to Scripture’s best principles. If we find Scripture instructive, and even authoritative, how might we encourage better practices for our world? (117)

It’s that approach, from beginning to end, that makes Inhabiting Eden so worthwhile. The book’s intended audience is not people who care about the environment, but people who care about the Bible, especially those who take the bible seriously (though not literally) as a guide for contemporary life. Each chapter contains discussion questions and activities to try at home, making it a natural fit for small group conversations in churches. This is not a polemic, it is an invitation–to move closer to God, to study the Bible, and to understand ourselves, our roles, our limits and our responsibilities in relationship with the whole earth.

 

 

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I had the opportunity to hear a colleague preach this week at an ecumenical Lenten service. He was preaching on the story of the Transfiguration, and Peter’s desire to capture the experience of being on the mountaintop to remember and return to it forever. He opened his reflections with a story about using a camcorder to capture precious moments when his children were small. He realized after a time that he was so busy looking through the lens of the camcorder to capture the moment that he missed being a part of the moment. What we want to be about, he said, is being fully engaged with the moment, because that writes the moment in our hearts, where the memory really matters. We can return to the experience of God in quiet and prayer. It was a good sermon.

Throughout his story, I was reflecting on my (still relatively new) life as a blogger. Since I have been writing this blog, I have found myself thinking, “Oh, I have to capture this story on the blog!” or “I can’t wait to write this down!” I wondered if I am so busy thinking about how to remember my spiritual moments with God or special moments with B that I am not actually present to them.

In reality, though, I have found the opposite to be true. Since I have been writing regularly, I feel as though my senses have been heightened. I feel like I am slowing down and paying more attention to my life. All these blog entries were once just passing moments of closeness to God and people. They did not get remembered at all, much less written into my heart, because I was always rushing off to the next thing. Now I find myself noticing and then absorbing the details of an encounter, with an eye toward writing it later. Writing intensifies my mindfulness and awareness, deepens my experience of events, and implants the spiritual memories deeper in my heart. For example, I am pretty confident I would not remember anything about that Lenten sermon if I hadn’t been contemplating a written response!

Which makes me think there are two key differences between writing and recording. First, a recorder does not need to be present to the moment to record it—the camera does all the work. A writer must be fully present to the moment, because the mind and senses are the only recorders present to capture the experience. Second, what is captured by the recorder is qualitatively different than what is captured by the writer. The recorder is able to capture the moment in all its detail. In video, for example, the camera recalls the color of clothes and the condition of the room, the words that were spoken and the ambient noises, the order of events and the expressions on faces. The written word cannot handle all those lavish details without becoming cumbersome and overwhelming. What the writer captures is what it was like to be there–the feelings, the experience, the words and happenings that mattered most. A writer is reflective and selective. When I write about a moment, I am not trying to tell you exactly what happened, so that you can see it for yourself. I am trying to share with you the experience that I had in a moment, why it mattered to me and what made my heart sing. I am trying to make your heart sing too, in response. Video footage is raw, writing is interpretation.

To continue the example, consider the difference between watching a video of my colleague’s sermon and just reading my brief summation. I make no attempt to capture the nuance of his words or the richness of his outline–I only tell you what mattered to me, and why it spoke to my heart.

All this reminds me of the Bible. The Bible is writing, not recording. This is not a new insight–I long ago abandoned any understanding of the Bible as literal Word of God or factual recording of history. When I teach people about the Bible, I tell them that the Bible exists because people had an encounter with God that touched them, and they were so moved that they wrote it down to remember and share with others.

Then I realized, of course, that this is the same exercise I am participating in today. The technology has changed from parchment scrolls to WordPress blogs, but the act is the same. Encounter God and write about it, because the act of writing inscribes it in your heart and enables you to share the experience with others. I intend no arrogance or pretension by drawing a comparative line between my halting reflections and the words of holy scripture–quite the opposite. I am humbled to realize that I am doing nothing new under the sun, just participating in a long history of faith seekers and faith writers trying to inscribe the moment into their hearts and into the hearts of others, from behind the quill, the pen or the keyboard.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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