Creation Spirituality: American, Global, and Christian?
By Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall
When I got to sing the National Anthem at a Cleveland Indians baseball game a few years ago, I knew exactly what I’d wear. The congregation had gifted me with an authentic team jersey and I was sure that would be perfect. But a month before the game, I received a letter from the Indians organization with directions: Because the Star Spangled Banner belongs to all Americans, the letter read, the Anthem singer shall not wear team apparel. Of course! There are some things bigger than team loyalty and the competition of the playing field.
The photograph of U.S. senators in both red and blue uniforms kneeling together prior to their annual baseball game, praying for their colleague and others injured by a gunman reflected a similar truth. Though the Democrats won the ball game, they presented the trophy to Steve Scalise, a Republican. What unites us as Americans — as humans with both infinitely precious and deeply vulnerable lives — transcends partisan politics, even great ideological differences. Remember how, in the wake of 9/11, people of nearly every nation declared “Today we are all Americans”?
We know all too well that peace and security are not simply national concerns, but are global ones, and to a great extent we will not sleep in heavenly peace as long as violence and injustice rage anywhere. In a similar way, care of the earth must be considered through a wider lens than national interest. We share one planet. The view of earth from space has provided a breathtaking view of the essential unity of the earth — no human-made boundary lines can be observed on that spinning blue marble. The life-sustaining atmosphere swaths the entire planet; its oceans touch every land; the interconnection runs deep and inextricably throughout. Toxic factory waste expelled into a river in China will poison tuna schools harvested for Hawaiians. The ozone layer depleted through carbon emissions is indifferent to its origins; the destructive effects will be felt by Americans and Europeans and Africans and Russians and Japanese alike.
Christian faith has sometimes been too narrow in its understanding of salvation, as if it were primarily a private, spiritual matter between individuals and God. But this is a far cry from the universal scope of Scripture that testifies to a “new heaven and a new earth,” in which death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. The apostle Paul stands out for his vision of Christ extending redemption to the whole creation. The morning text expresses his conviction of future glory in which earth is delivered from the corruption and decay that are the consequence of willful, selfish human choices and actions and is reborn whole, perfect, and purposive. When we read it carefully, we understand that this is not “pie in the sky, by and bye”– the spiritual reward for patient suffering in the present. No, Paul sketches this picture of global redemption as a lens through which to understand the current situation, its brokenness and death and despair … and more important, as a guide to determine actions and decisions today. A reading from the letter to the Romans, in the eighth chapter at the 18th verse. Listen for God’s Word to the Church. [Romans 8:18-25]
What are the realities or moments that inspire your love for America? Take a moment and share them with people around you.
Perhaps these are some things you mentioned: scenic beauty everywhere and an abundance of natural resources; presentation of the flag and pledging allegiance; remembering sacrifices made by servicemen and women; worship; what did I miss?
It is right to give God thanks for our nation and the many blessings we experience in our homeland. Personally, there’s no place I’d rather live.
As Christian people of faith, however, patriotism toward our country forms but one part of our identity. We worship God only, and our ultimate allegiance is to God and God’s Kingdom, a realm that knows no national boundaries, geography, or government. We participate in responsible citizenship — voting, serving in office, advocating for policies and laws that reflect our understanding of God’s intent for the good creation. Christian faith is not simply one aspect of life; it is the framework by which we understand all of life — from the spiritual to the economic, culture and duty, beliefs and behaviors.
The Apostle Paul’s grand vision looked to a world about to be born. And I wonder how our perception and practice would change if we understood earthkeeping as part of the labor through which God will deliver new life. It could enlarge our understanding that America’s true greatness lies in her servant leadership at home and abroad. At the very least, it could guard against a sense of frustrated helplessness, a feeling that nothing we do matters. And it could move us to choose actions that nourish God’s redemptive intention for the whole creation, not simply our little piece of it.
In fact, it’s already happening, and compellingly, I believe, at the intersection of science and religion. Environmental scientists who are themselves people of faith are serving as bridges between the two camps that have often been isolated in their respective areas. Scientists have known for a long time that the facts and data produced by research would not be sufficient to rouse the public to act. For that, arguments have to be reframed in moral terms. The science is critical, but it’s not enough,” said Nathaniel Hitt, a fisheries biologist active in a Presbyterian church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Science is like a compass. It can tell us where north is, but it can’t tell us if we want to go north. That’s where our morality comes in. [The New York Times, June 20, 2015: For Faithful, Social Justice Goals Demand Action on Environment]
As science reveals the scope of the environmental crisis, faith motivates us to address it through God’s charge from the dawn of creation to care for the earth in the same way God does. As science demonstrates how poor populations bear a disproportionate burden of the negative effects of climate change, faith calls us to love the last and the least. As science develops alternative energy sources beyond fossil fuels, faith challenges us to put people before profits. Friends, we might disagree about specific ways to do it, but let there be no disagreement about the fact that faith mandates we try.
Perhaps nothing prepares us better for this labor than gathering at the Table. Here we remember … God’s love is stronger than death. Here we anticipate … the day that is surely coming, when perfect peace and justice reign. Here we commune … as one people. Here we are strengthened … to work with hope for a future that is in God’s hands. Amen.