Being born on Earth Day (April 22), I have always felt a particular calling and responsibility to care for the Earth. When I do not do so, I feel out of synch, out of whack, and out of balance. It is not just because I was born on Earth Day either (although, I do have the privilege of calling it my “bearthday”). It is simply because I was born into this world and live on planet Earth.
To historically enlighten you, the Earth Day movement began on April 22, 1970 (18 years before I was born). The movement began when a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, witnessed the horrific results of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif.
During that time, the student-led anti-war movement was going strong and Nelson saw that bringing the current environmental crises into public awareness could bring about change with the help of students. On the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans participated in rallies and protests for awareness and change and against the misuse of resources and the deteriorating state of the environment.
Nelson and the students who led the movement did, indeed, spark change, specifically the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts. (If you are interested in learning more about the Earth Day movement, visit earthday.org.)
As a United Methodist, I lift up our Social Principles written in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. Paragraph 160.1, entitled “The Natural World,” states, “All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation.”
To be a good steward of creation is different from “ruling” over all creation. With the ruler mentality, we will deplete our resources: God’s creation. We have already begun to deplete our resources. Collectively, we have treated our environment harshly with our wasteful daily habits. The mentality that we are the rulers of creation has gotten us into big trouble. Forests are not growing back as quickly as we need them to after we mow them down. Oil is not replacing itself. Tops of mountains are being used for coal mining. There are pipelines for oil being built that could (and will) endanger more animals, soil, plants, and humans. I cannot even begin to list all of the dangerous, environmentally-hazardous things we have brought about with our ruler mentalities.
So, what does it mean to be a good steward? In Christian churches, the word “stewardship” is often used to talk about giving of our finances, our time, our care, and our hearts. Thinking in this way, how can we give to the Earth in this time of need? From my Christian perspective, first, we can take responsibility for our actions and repent. We must be truly sorry and we must change as we go forward. The earth and all its non-human beings cannot respond verbally to our apology; however, reconciliation is possible and we can look for forgiveness and hope in other ways.
Earth Day falls two days after Easter this year. It is a time in the Christian calendar with which we celebrate resurrection, renewal, and a rising up over past issues and oppressions. Sometimes the state of our soil makes it impossible for plants to rise up out of the ground again; however, with our nurture and care, as well as our allowing of plants, animals, and other non-humans to be the best they can be, we humans can also be the best we can be. We can be more in synch, more harmonious, more balanced, and more peaceful in our relationship with Earth.
May this Earth Day remind you of your responsibility to care for the Earth as a steward of creation. Let every day be Earth Day!
• Melissa Engel is coordinator of the Juneau Youth Ministry Cooperative.