Fresh Air

Dear Friends,

I have joined the online community found at Christianwriters.com and as part of that community I am participating in a monthly blog chain (scroll down to see the list of June’s participants in the right side column.)  This month our subject, celebrating the changing of the seasons, is “fresh air.”

At first I approached the subject with a warm nostalgia–fresh air brings to mind sun kissed skin, feathery breezes, blooming fields, kingly mountains.  In preparation for writing I searched my memory for cherished moments of attachment to nature, aware that the glorious outdoors, the broad firmament, is God’s good gift to us.  I grew up in pristine country, in the northern tip of Maine, where the waters teemed with red speckled brook trout, and nimble bald eagles traversed the skies.  Living there I felt the strength of John Calvin’s imperative, as he considered the wonder of our God-fashioned world, “being placed in this most beautiful theatre, let us not decline to take a pious delight in the clear and manifest works of God” [1].  This is what I should write about–our world, and its star spangled atmospheric tent, fresh air!

But I no longer live in northern Maine.  The cracked asphalt and manicured lawns of Long Island, New York’s crowded suburbs have replaced the wild flowered fields of my youth.  The move has meant more than a change in my natural surroundings, it has meant a change in my thinking about the stewardship of God’s ‘good’ [2] creation.   The psalmist sang, “The heaven’s declare the glory of God”–which is all well and good until the smog blocks our window to the sky.  Christians have had mixed reaction to our present ecological crisis.  Some, long nurtured in Calvin’s (and other’s) anthropic utilitarian view of the world (i.e. that the world is here for humanity’s benefit and consumption–and not as a stand alone ‘good’) [3] regard the siren blaring environmental scientists as a group of Chicken Littles, pointing needlessly to the falling sky.  Others imbibed with a restoration eschatology (i.e. a belief that the kingdom of God is realized in the restoration of the corrupted world) desire the church to be a sign of the kingdom by its present participation in ecological justice.  Unfortunately, in regard to American Christianity, the debate between the two parties,  fueled by current political polarization, is anything but civil.

I confess to be more in the second camp then the first.  I believe we are not here merely to consume the products of the earth, but to be stewards of the the earth as a ‘stand alone good.’  We are here not only to breathe fresh air but to keep the air fresh.  We do not stand above creation, but exist as part of creation in an intertwined relationship of giving and receiving.  When we consume without regard for the health of our planet it is not just the planet that suffers but all who rely on it.

When we consume without regard for the health of the planet we also disproportionately hurt the ‘least of these’.  Pollution is not only about the health of the earth, but about the oppression of the most vulnerable amongst us.  The poor of the world in developing nations bear the brunt of the effect pollution has on health, often as a result of large international corporations owned by people in the developed world who could not run their polluting operations in their own more regulated countries.  We breathe fresh air by stealing the fresh air of others.

A recent story in Christianity Today illustrates this poignantly.  It describes the 12,000 suffering children of La Oroya, Peru.  97% of the children suffer from lead poisoning, a direct result of an antiquated smelter, owned by the Doe Run Company of St. Louis, that emits more than a 1,000 tons of toxic emissions every day.  Many of the children tested

A child looks out over the Doe Run Smelter in La Oroya, Peru

for lead poisoning were over six times the maximum permissible level set by the World Health Organization–an amount so grave that if these children were in the United States they would be hospitalized.  Thankfully the ‘Joining Hands Network of Peru’, a group “composed of 15 Peruvian evangelical churches and Christian nonprofits and 19 Presbyterian congregations in Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio [that] seek to bring aid and development to Peru’s poor” blew the whistle on this harmful consumption of the earth’s resources.

This is the work of the church–to come alongside the defenseless and oppose those who exploit both the earth and the poor of the earth.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked , “Will the church merely gather up those whom the wheel has crushed, or will it prevent the wheel from crushing them?”  Everyone deserves waters teeming with with red speckled brook trout, and skies traversed by the nimble bald eagle.  Everyone deserves heavens that declare the glory of God.  Everyone deserves the breath of the unpolluted life–a little fresh air.  As we breathe deeply of all that God has given us, may we learn in even greater ways the abundant joy found in the stewardship of creation, and the love of our neighbor.

[1] The Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 1.14.20.

[2] In the creation myth in Genesis 1, God describes each day’s work as ‘good’, affirming the inherent benevolence and worth of our physical universe.

[3] In fairness John Calvin’s impact on Christian’s ecological attitudes is sometimes due to an uncritical reading of Calvin.  Calvin did not promote a reckless consumption of the earth’s resources, but the opposite, “As God bountifully provides for us, so he has appointed a law of temperance, that each may voluntarily restrain himself in his abundance. He sends out oxen and asses into pastures, and they content themselves with a sufficiency; but while furnishing us with more than we need, he enjoins upon us an observance of the rules of moderation, that we may not voraciously devour his benefits… But as men are too prone to pleasure, it is to be observed, that the law of temperance ought not to be separated from the beneficence of God, lest they abuse their liberty by indulging in luxurious excess [Calvin, Psalms, pp. 156-157.]

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37 Responses to Fresh Air

  1. Nona says:

    EXCELLENT post, Jesse. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your in-depth views. It is sad that others do not see how our selfish consumption of the planet’s resources hurts ourselves as well as others. We were setup as God’s representatives in caring for the planet and the animals, not to simply get what we can for our own edification. The more concern we practice for conservation and the prevention of gluttony, the better for everyone.

    ~Nona

    • N,

      “Wisdom?!”–is that spelled “we-is-dumb?” 🙂 Thank you for your kindness.

      I think its significant, in the second creation story of Genesis 2, that we were formed from the dirt of the earth. Like it or not we are linked to this third rock from the son, not only because of the resources it provides, but also in common raw materials.

      I like your blog, btw.

      Brotherly,
      JP

  2. sheilaodomhollinghead says:

    “Will the church merely gather up those whom the wheel has crushed, or will it prevent the wheel from crushing them?” Love that quote. I had not heard of the children of La Oroya, Peru. Thank God we have people willing to stop companies from hurting others. This is a great kick off to our blog chain. Thanks you for sharing.

    • Bonhoeffer, and the other prophets of our times, continue to speak necessary words to us. The context of the quote if of interest, in that Bonhoeffer (a confessed pacifist) was explaining his involvement with a plot to assassinate Hitler.

  3. Traci B says:

    Great first post for the blog chain, Jesse. Informative and thought/prayer-provoking.

  4. One of the banes of our existence on Earth, not just in the ecological sense, is manufacturers who do nothing for promoting clean air. I suppose they were disallowed to build their plant in the U.S., so they built in an area without restrictions–and without regard to the damage they cause the locals.

    Most humans value clean air to breathe, so it’s remarkable that some prefer to take it away for the sake of making money. Sad. But spiritually, God provides fresh air for our souls through His Word, and through fellow Christians. Air we desperately need.

    Great post, Jesse.

    ~ VT

    • Victor,

      Thanks for the comments. Yes, God’s breath that animates us (i.e. the breath of life) is a precious commodity. As we endeavor to be apprenticed to our heavenly father I think it important that we offer breath (air) that gives life and not breath (air) that takes is away.

      Brotherly,
      JP

  5. Nice Post, Jessie. So glad you’ve joined the blog chain. Thank you for reminding us that we are “caretakers” of this blue ball of life that God created; not its owners.

  6. Thank you Carol. “Life” is the operative word. God is big on life. 🙂

  7. Terrie says:

    Thank you for bring these concerns to everyones attention. I get upset when I hear that people, especially the West, are taking advantage of these impoverished nations, when they know full well what they are doing is wrong! I praise God that He just hasn’t sat back and allowed the atrocity to continue, but has raised up people to take notice and take a stand.
    Yes fresh air is a gift from God as well as all His majestic beauty created for us and himself to enjoy!

    People will say, “I can’t do anything-I am nobody” But we all have an awful lot of unused authority. We all can start by looking at our own lifestyle, taking steps to ease our own consumption of resources. We can boycott[ for the pre 1970’s crowd- boycott means “don’t buy their products”] those companies that do business in this manner. Finally we need to get politically involved and put pressure on our government to stop dealing so easily with these companies that promote evil.

    Just my thoughts- Really good post Jes- thank you!

  8. Terrie,

    Yes, there is power when people ‘perceive’ injustice and band together in opposition. Unfortunately most of us, myself included, live life with blinders on. Here’s to God opening our eyes.

    Often times we engage in benevolent works as a means to alleviate the guilt we feel for our blindness. Preventative care is a far better strategy than offering a post-wound band-aid. As Augustine famously said, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”

    I like your spirit. This Christianity is harder than we ever imagined. Fighting for justice is risky business. There is a reason God gave the prophet Ezekiel a forehead of flint. It gets rough out there.

    Brotherly,
    JP

  9. Sarah Grace says:

    At one time I heard the people of the earth likened to a parasite. It’s true isn’t it? When the earth suffers from our taking? Great post, Jesse! Something we all need to be reminded of!

  10. Sarah,

    Thanks for the encouragement. Hopefully we work our way from the parasitic extreme to the symbiotic extreme. I scratch the earth’s back and it scratches mine. 🙂

    Smiling,
    JP

  11. Tracy Krauss says:

    This was a great way to start the ‘Fresh Air’ experience. Your post was thought provoking. In some Christian circles there is a misconception that man’s dominion somehow negates our responsibilities to look after the earth. People concerned about the planet’s health are sometimes scoffed at or even lumped into the New Age camp. thank you for such a grounded post on our responsibility to be good stewards.

  12. Tracy,

    I think you are right about dominion vs. responsibility–that is a false dichotomy. I also think that a person’s eschatology factors in. For many the earth is doomed to fiery consumption, so therefore there is no imperative to conserve or protect.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    Brotherly,
    JP

  13. Seems you have many a like minded person responding. I too am concerned about pollution. Someone in Peru approved the regulations to allow this business to open. Why are America’s businesses the only ones trashed and not the governments in foreign lands who promote the businesses and get wealthy doing it? The finger-pointing should go both ways.

    • Chris,

      Your point is taken. We are all, as Luther said, simultaneously saints and sinners. Sin and sainthood are no respectors of borders. America has plenty of very philanthropic businesses doing great things around the world, and there are expoitive businesses in every nook and cranny of our globe.

      I do think developed nations, and the peoples and businesses that populate them, have a responsibility however to be especially careful in their handling of developing countries as we navigate a very treacherous post-colonial (some say neo-colonial) world. There are reasons the world is the way it is.

      Blessings,
      JP

  14. E G Lewis says:

    Welcome to the Chain Gang, Jesse. You’ve set the bar pretty high. I liked you quote from Bonhoeffer. As you know, he eventually decided to cross the line and become more of an activist. Personally, I’ve never subscribed to the image of Jesus as being as totally passive as some would like him to imagine him. It’s a problem that every caring person eventually faces – how much is too much?
    Peace and Blessings

    • E G,

      Thanks for the welcome. I agree, the meek and mild Christ that many have been nurtured with needs to be rethought. We worship one Sabbath healin’, Rome snubbin’, table flippin’ king of guy, who was a bit more subversive then we give him credit for.

      Smiling,
      JP

  15. chris vonada says:

    Jesse,

    Your writing is excellent and brings great points to ponder, welcome to the blog chain 🙂

    • Chris,

      Thank you for the kind affirmation, and I am glad that we are now facebook friends. I look forward to hearing more from you, and spending time on your blog–(ridiculously awesome cole-slaw is a passion of mine).
      Smiling,
      JP

  16. Amen! Welcome to the CW Blog Chain, Jesse! So glad you’re aboard. Excellent post! My son goes each summer to work among the children served by Potter’s House, whose families subsist by scavenging in the Guatemala City Dump. There are no words for the conditions these families live in, and in spite of getting sick every year, he returns to love on these little ones, hoping to make a difference in their lives. As the Body of Christ, we are called to steward this land, to use it well, sharing it equally with all God’s children.

    Love the Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote, “Will the church merely gather up those whom the wheel has crushed, or will it prevent the wheel from crushing them?” Praying that we, as the hands and feet and voice of God on this earth, strive to prevent the wheel from crushing them.

  17. Hey welcome to the Blog chain. I’m running a little behind here. You have given me a fresh appreciation of the linkage between pollution and poverty. I think about how God gave Adam and Eve the task of tending the garden. To me this suggests that we may make use of this world, and enjoy benefits from it, but at the same time we have a responsibility to take care of it as a gift entrusted by God to us.

    • Adam,
      I agree with you. We are apprenticed to our Father who sustains the universe. It is a responsibility we neglect at our own peril. In Hosea 4 the prophet describes what happens when there is no faith to be found in the land. The description is telling: “Because of this the land dries up, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea are swept away.” Hmm.

      Brotherly,
      JP

  18. Lynn Mosher says:

    Jesse, what an awesome first post for the chain gang! Very thoughtful and elegantly written. Love this, “As God bountifully provides for us, so he has appointed a law of temperance, that each may voluntarily restrain himself in his abundance.” Thank you!

    • Calvin is a quote machine. It is unfortunate that in many circles his name has become synonymous with a rigid ‘calvanism’ and thus given negative connotations. He was a brilliant theologian, and a revolutionary thinker–albeit, as we all are, helplessly blind and groping to find words to describe the wonders and works of God.
      Brotherly,
      JP

  19. Scott Fields says:

    TREEHUGGER!

    Just kidding. 😉

    We wrestled with this one in my Sunday morning class recently. Some people feel that we need to recognize our symbiotic link to God’s creation. Others–noble enough in their intentions, certainly–feel that, while we shouldn’t destroy creation just for the sake of destroying it, we should perhaps use our resources more for helping people than helping the environment. They feel that pouring money into “green” causes is a little like funding a renovation for a condemned building awaiting its destruction.

    As is always the case in my class . . . I don’t advocate one side more than the other. I like asking the questions, challenging people’s perceptions, keeping their minds as active as their hearts. Right now, however, I’m sincerely wishing I’d read your post here before that class session. You offer some fantastic points of view, stuff that would’ve made things all that more interesting. Solidly researched, nicely thought out, and very well stated.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Scott,
      I think your class would be a joy to attend.
      I have encountered the dichotomy you describe. I think it is a false dichotomy. In the La Oroya case helping the environment did help the people, and of course the converse was true as well.
      The connection you made between eschatology and environmental concerns is spot on. Much evangelical eschatology, with its picture of sickly earth meeting a fiery demise, is more Gnostic than Christian. The earth is not ‘bad’, it is ‘fallen’, there is a difference.
      Great thoughts.
      Brotherly,
      JP

  20. Chris Depew says:

    Thank you for that. I also think it is important for us to take care of the earth. The natural order is God ordained, he crated it after all. It is all a part of Him. So, again. Thanks.

    • Chris,
      Thanks for the comment. Perhaps we take care of the earth for the very same reason we take care of our own bodies–because they are a temple (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3, 6).
      Brotherly,
      JP

  21. Having very definite views of so-called “global climate change” and environmental issues, I have to say I don’t agree with everything here, but I don’t fully disagree either. The things you discuss are eye-opening and thought provoking at the very least. Definitely will be thinking about this post more. Thanks for joining into the blog chain. 🙂

    • Liberty,
      Thanks for the comment. Issues concerning the environment have become politically polarized. Part of our conversation about such matters is tainted by partisanship on both sides of the political debate. This is unfortunate. It is interesting that the word used in the New Testament and translated as ‘Christian’ (appearing only three times, and most likely, at first, a derogatory epithet) means ‘partisan to Christ.’ So here’s to putting first things first. 🙂

      For the children of La Oroya there can be no mistaking the negative impact that environmental neglect brought upon their community, and there is great joy for the people who came to their aid in the name of Christ.
      Brotherly,
      JP

  22. Pingback: Fresh Air | The Collings Zone

  23. Jed Koball says:

    Dear Joe, I was online looking for a Bonhoeffer quote when I stumbled upon your blog. I am the presbyterian church (USA) mission co-worker in Peru who is working on the La Oroya campaign. Thank you so very much for picking up this story! You have no idea just how encourging it is to know that folks in the U.S. are hearing the story… and sharing it! Thank you!

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