For my grade school science fair project, I built a small windmill using an old bicycle wheel and bits of scrap sheet metal I found in my father’s workshop. It is not an exaggeration to say as long as I remember, I have been interested in how we could harness energy from nature. I have spent many hours learning and researching what living sustainably could look like. However, I have to confess, all my knowledge, has resulted in only feeble attempts to change my own habits in the direction that my knowledge tells me I have to go.
My thoughts have shifted away from technical solutions to the environmental problems we face, to trying to understand how it is that I, and most people I know, so willingly refuse to reshape our habits and desires in the way that is required.
One of my nephews posted the following accepted definition of nature.
1. the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.
Stop and think for a minute, do you see any problem with that accepted definition?
Mark Fisher in his book Capitalist Realism describes the ways that our present culture (economic and political systems) have shaped our understanding of what the purpose / position of humans are, and how our imagination of what is possible is limited by what we consider to be “reality”.
The above accepted definition of nature is just one example of how pervasive the skewing of meaning and purpose has become, painting humans as opposed and separate from nature. A society that sees nature in this way easily turns a blind eye to the “external” costs of our lifestyle on the natural world.
Mark Fisher’s work is revelatory and important, but his proposed solutions do not reference the hope that is possible when you orient your life toward the God who makes all things possible. The scriptures do not limit our vocation of service to our fellow humans, but gives us a role of caretaker for all living things.
The introduction to Calvin College professor, Jamie Smith’s book “You Are What You Love” says this.
“Who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. We may not realize, however, the ways our hearts are taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. And while we desire to shape culture, we are not often aware of how culture shapes us. In You Are What You Love, author James K. A. Smith helps us recognize the formative power of culture and the transformative possibilities of Christian practices.”
Dr. Smith suggests that our actions do not primarily flow from our knowledge, but from something deeper, from our heart, from the things we love. Furthermore the forming of the things we love are by influences often “unseen” or unacknowledged. The things we consider to make up the “good life” are learned through cultural influences and life habits. We need to constantly ask if this “good life” allows those people and things which are impacted by our decisions to also live well, and if not, consider what new life habits we could develop to change what we love.
So what must we do?
- Go ahead and learn about sustainability but don’t expect that knowledge to change your habits, knowledge by itself will not change what you love. There is no intention to discount the importance of knowledge, or promote ignorance, instead we should consider that our love(s) clothe our knowledge.
- Our desires (what we love) are always being shaped and reshaped, we need to be deliberate about our habits, our liturgies. The act of confession opens up a door in our hearts for change. Confessions can be personal but also communal. The church as a community must examine and confess our role in supporting a belief that we are separate from the creation. That communal confession can open up the door to experiencing new ways of teaching, preaching, praying, confessing and rejoicing in and LOVING our place inside nature.
- Develop a habit of nourishing something. It can be a plant, a pet, a neighbour, a child, a spouse, a grandparent, maybe all of the above if you have the energy. This habit can build your ability to love nature and see how all things grow. They grow old and they die, but even in death, live on in different ways. I suspect the death part is one reason our culture wants us to be separate from nature, and thereby imagine we can avoid death.
- There is too much fear of the risk of “nature worship”, and far too little of the way our economic system and culture calls us to be separate from nature. We have allowed our culture to tell us “there is no other way” and in our hearts we have extracted God and Man out of nature. We need to relearn to love nature as a thing that humans were created to be part of, and that nature needs us, as much as we need it.
BEING IN NATURE
I am glad to say, I still enjoy researching and thinking of ways to live in a more sustainable way. I am even happier to have learned that I will change things only by changing what I love, in that I will change not only myself but in some mysterious way those around me.
As social beings, our human desires are shaped by the desires of those around us. Christians who desire to follow Christ and live in a way that allows flourishing of all living things can and will create the necessary conditions to reveal what is possible (everything), and necessary for a proper human relationship in nature. Our hope remains in the servant way of Christ and the trust that eventually all will seek to follow in that way.