Understanding Earth Day

caringforcreation-1When I first heard about Earth Day, I wasn’t on board. It fell on my birthday, and I was suspicious about anything that could potentially cut into my gift-getting. However, during its big push in 1990, I was convinced — even frightened — that if I didn’t do my part in conservation efforts, Mother Earth would be doomed. She looked so sad in those cartoon depictions. I took immediate heed and started to “go green.” I stopped turning on the TV just to have noise in the house. When brushing my teeth, I kept the spigot on low and turned it off when not rinsing. Even as a family, we instituted some environmentally friendly efforts. We reused containers creatively, started recycling, and participated in neighborhood cleanups and beautification events. For a while, we even kept a list of the refrigerator’s contents on the door, so that we wouldn’t need to stand there with it open while we pondered a snack.

All the while, by doing these earth-saving activities, I was increasing my overall care and concern for the earth. I started to appreciate Mother Earth’s teaching abilities. She taught me about the beautiful power of God as I marveled in her wonder. She taught me about changing seasons and living life well because the winter will come. I started to see the wisdom of Jesus using her in many of his parables. And, I started to honor her more and more. Subsequently, I became increasingly intolerant of those who would mindlessly pollute her lands and waste her resources.

I remember a heated discussion with someone aggressively pushing a proposal for a needless and extravagant consumerist project set to demolish natural resources. I asked him how he could regard the earth with such carelessness after all we’d been hearing about the need for environmental responsibility. After dismissing my opinion as “tree-hugger propaganda,” he replied that God gave us (humanity) dominion over the Earth and he was “exercising his God-given responsibility” to advance our civilization. With mouth agape, I stood there deciding whether I was more stunned by the idiocy, the ignorance or the arrogance of that statement. He believed that God told us that we could use the earth however we wanted to, whenever we wanted to.

I took a breath, prayed to control my volume and speak prudently, and attempted to convey this gentleman’s misinformation with respect to the word “dominion.” I knew what he was talking about. Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” To have dominion in the original use of the word does not mean to lord one’s power over another at one’s desire. Rather, it is a commanding call to use our abilities responsibly for the good of all that is in our care. Dominion makes no room for pride, selfishness and power wielding. It’s God’s call to leadership that is built upon the common good, justice for all living creatures, and prudential wisdom.

Here’s the greater point: Whether we admit it or not, we are in a relationship with Mother Earth, who is alive! We have seen the effects of our bad behavior in this relationship: pollution, global warming, deforestation, animal extinction, climate refugees, and the list goes on and on. Selfishness in relationships benefits no one. When we are good stewards to Mother Earth, our respect feeds her integrity; she feeds our wonder. Our toil cultivates her lands; she feeds and houses us. Our care strengthens her and allows her to care for future generations. So, Earth Day is a time for us to take a deeper look at our relationship with Mother Earth. This year, may we tweak some behaviors, change some attitudes, but most of all, foster a greater honor for the gift of Mother Earth that God created and gifted to all God’s people.

This year, Busted Halo® has created a Virtual Earth Day Retreat to help enhance your understanding of God’s creation. Use this retreat to celebrate Earth Day, April 22, and share it with your friends! 

Looking for more information about the connections between faith and the environment? Want to make a difference? There are a lot of great organizations answering God’s call to care for creation. Here’s a sampling:

Fr. Steven Bell, CSP, is a Paulist priest who leads parish missions, retreats, revivals and workshops, all of which consider the importance of reconciliation and healing. Fr. Steve previously served as associate director of Newman Hall / Holy Spirit Parish at the University of California at Berkeley and associate director of St. Thomas More Newman Center at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. Prior to this assignment, Fr. Steve was the associate director of Busted Halo. Ordained in 2008, Fr. Steve served at St. Austin’s in Austin, Texas, where he led lessons on faith for school-aged kids at summer camp and motivational talks for African-American professionals. He also led retreats and missions for young adults and other groups in the church.