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