Born (Again) to Rewild: a book review

Environmentalism and Jesus¬†both call us to oppose the dominant cultural mode of consumption and affluenza. However most of us Christians ¬†are not all that radically different from our neighbors in what or how much we consume. Some of us deny our world is in an ecological crisis where most of us respond to the¬†inconvenient¬†truth¬†of global warming, the destruction of ecosystems, and rising tides with just a little bit of green washing. We care. So we recycle our plastic bottles, drive electric cars, buy organic food‚ĄĘ but our consumption rages on.

9948Todd Wynward is both a Christian and an environmentalist. He is a wilderness guide, founder of a wilderness-based charter school, a member of an intentional community and a¬†leader in the Mennonite denomination. In¬†Rewilding the Way,¬†Wynward borrows the concept of ‘rewilding’ from conservation biology (the idea of turning land back to nature, to allow the ecosystem to be restored). Rewilding the Jesus Way means bringing the Christian faith back into connection with the earth and allowing vitality come back to a faith that has been tamed by technology and corporate industrial¬†culture (11). Wynward hopes to steer the way between total reunification of the world and conspicuous consumption and paint a picture of watershed discipleship (discipleship that responds to this watershed moment in history, cares for our watershed, and treats our watersheds as Rabbi).

Rewilding the Way unfolds in three parts. Part I describes our current predicament of affluenza, distance from nature, and the lack of outrage for the current cultural malaise. Part II describes seven paths to wild your way: (1) steer by inner authority, (2) rely upon radical grace, (3) embody enoughness (4) lead through meekness, (5) cultivate a divine insecurity, (6)embrace the unraveling and (7) trust in the service. Part III outlines the work ahead and highlights some of the initiatives that are bringing together faith, radical discipleship  and creation care.

Wynward points to church initiatives and ecological activism to unfold these practices. The book teems with stories from both spheres, as well as drawing lessons from the Bible. I found a lot to chew on in this volume. Wynward simultaneously calls us towards a holy discontent with where we are, and trust in God and contentedness with what we are given (embodying enoughness). I am in a moment of in-between-ness wondering what God has next for me an my family and Wynward’s words and practices touch ¬†something in me and make me hunger for more of God’s Kingdom and the redemption of all of creation.

I really liked the way Wynward re-imagines the words of the Lord’s Prayer, taking them from a passive voice to this:

Father of Everything,

Your presence fills all of Creation.

Again today, your kingdom has come.

Again today, I join my will to your will to make earth as in heaven.

Again today, you’ll give us the bread we need for your daily work,

and you’ll show mercy to us just as much as we show mercy to others.

Again today, as we face times of testing, you’ll be with us in our trials. (63).

He doesn’t offer these as a scholarly, literal translation, but as meditation of the meaning of Jesus’ prayer for us as we pray this and follow him. The book is full of other fresh reads of scripture and insights (Wynward regards Ched Meyers and Richard Rohr as mentors in the way, and their insights can be seen throughout). I give this book four stars and recommend it for anyone frustrated by where the Christian faith fails to intersect with care for the physical world. Wynward is one of the good guys who sees the intimate connection between the Jesus way and the rocks and trees, and skies and seas of this, our Father’s World.

Note: I received this book from the author or publisher through SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Yes We Should: A Book Review

Often Christians lag behind the wider cultural when it comes to social change. This is felt most acutely in the realm of the environment. Suspicions about secularism and New Age spirituality have caused many conservative Christians to dismiss the environmental movement. Advancing a controversial claim among some environmentalists, Dan Story argues that Christianity and the Bible provide the best framework for environmental stewardship.

Dan Story wrote¬†Should Christians Be Environmentalists?¬†with three purposes in mind. ¬†First, he wanted to encourage environmental stewardship among Christians by providing a bible-based theological framework for creation care (11). Second, he wanted to provide an apologetic for Christian environmentalism against claims that Christianity is the ‘root cause’ ¬†of environmental problems (a thesis famously argued by Lynn White in 1967 but also several others) (11). ¬†Lastly he wanted to encourage Christians to use their concern for creation as a point of contact for evangelism(12). Story succeeds in each of these objectives. Along the way he manages to reference a good deal of ¬†academic literature regarding theology and the environment yet remain accessible.

The book divides into three parts. In part one, Story assesses where we are as a culture in our approach to environmental concerns. He argues that the materialist underpinnings of secular culture provides no real basis for long term environmental stewardship, he challenges the notion that Christians are responsible for environmental crisis and the notion that other religions are ‘more in tune’ with the environment. But he also makes clear that humans have made a significant impact on the earth and that we are all responsible for ¬†mismanaging natural resources and causing damage to our world.¬†In ¬†part 2 he provides a Bible-based theology of nature (through the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Stewardship. Story describes the trajectory of the Biblical story (from Eden to (re)New(ed) Earth), the way human ‘dominion’ has been misunderstood to mean exploitation rather than stewardship and how the ‘fall’ has caused us to use and abuse the earth selfishly and greedily. In part three he focuses he advocates Christian concern for the environment (from the biblical framework he just sketched).

My only  major critique of this book is the title. Certainly Story is cognizant of the fact that many Christians have been wary of the environmental movement, but this is not really a book which explores if Christians should be environmentalists. Instead it is a book which advocates strongly for creation care and stewardship of the environment from a Christian perspective, provides an apologetic for Christian involvement because of anti-Christian environmentalism and discusses the evangelistic opportunities we Christians will have if we care for the earth. Exploring whether or not a Christian should be involved in environmentalism is not an open question in this book. Story is emphatic, you should. Part of me wonders if Should Environmentalists Be Christian? would have be a more apt and provocative title.

Titles aside this is a good introduction to environmental stewardship Christian style and I happily recommend it. Because Story does write out of conservative Christian conviction, he is able to make a compelling case for Creation care to a segment of Evangelicalism which still regards environmentalism with suspicion.  This might be a good book for a book group or a church small group.

Thank you to Kregel Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Easter week 3/ Earth Day 2012 poems

Having spent yesterday weeding and trying to ready a garden plot, for this years vegetables. I spent a good part of yesterday with my hands in the dirt, hunched over and seeing how much the soil teems with life–beetles and spiders, worms and slugs and the odd gardner snake warming herself on a stone. In the northern hemisphere Easter coincides with new life and growth. So I thought it appropriate to share some poems which reflect on this seasonal rising. Below are two poems taken from Luci Shaw’s The Green Earth: Poems of Creation and one poem from Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997.

From Luci Shaw

Rising: the Underground Tree
(Cornus sanguinea and cornus candensis)

One spring in Tennessee I walked a tunnel
under dogwood trees, noting the petals
(in fours like crosses) and at each tender apex
four russet stains dark as Christ’s wounds.
I knew that with the year the dogwood flower heads
would ripen into berry clusters bright as drops of gore.

Last week, a double-click on Botony
startled me with the kinship of those trees
and bunchberries, whose densely crowded mat
carpets the deep woods around my valley cabin.
Only their flowers — those white quartets of petals —
suggest the blood relationship. Since then I see

the miniature leaves and buds as tips of trees
burgeoning underground, knotted roots like limbs
pushing up to light through rocks and humus.
The pure cross-flowers at my feet redeem
their long, dark burial in the ground, show how even
a weight of stony soil cannot keep Easter at bay.

—-

Stigmata

The tree, a beech, casts the
melancholy of shadow across the road.
It seems to bear the enormous weight of
the sky on the tips of its branches.
The smooth trunk invites me to finger

five bruise-dark holes where rot
was cut away. Years have pursed
the thickened skin around the scars
into the mouths that sigh,
“Wounded. Wounded.”

As the hurt feels me out,
wind possesses the tree and
overheard a hush comes; not that
all other sounds die, but half a million
beech leaves rub together in the air,

washing out bird calls, footsteps,
filling my ears with the memory of
old pain and a song of cells in the sun.
“Hush,” they say with green lips.
“Hush.”

From Wendell Berry

Another Sunday morning comes
And I resume the standing Sabbath
Of the woods, where the finest blooms
Of time return, and where no path

Is worm, but wears its maker out.
At last, and disappears in leaves
Of fallen seasons. The tracked rut
Fills and levels; here nothing grieves

In the risen season. Past life
Lives in the living. Resurrection
Is in the way each maple leaf
Commemorates its kind, by connection

Outreaching understanding. What rises
Rises into comprehension
And beyond. Even falling raises
In praise of light. What is begun

Is unfinished. And so the mind
That comes to rest among the bluebells
Comes to rest in motion, refined
By alteration. The bud swells,

Opens, makes seed, falls, is well,
Being becoming what is:
Miracle and parable
Exceeding thought, because it is

Immeasurable; the understander
Encloses understanding, thus
Darkens the light. We can stand under
No ray that is not dimmed by us.

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.