Moving Beyond Greening and Stewardship

By Mishka Lysack on August 23, 2017

Moving Beyond Greening and Stewardship

From the Catalyst, Summer 2017

Many of us are involved in personal or church greening, actions to reduce our environmental impact. And greening is certainly an important way to help protect God’s creation. It reduces the actual amount of carbon emissions and other pollution, slowing the rate of environmental destruction. It also decreases the suffering of innocent creatures, giving us valuable time to get to work on making deep changes.

Protecting creation arises out of our direct, ongoing experience of creation, whether we are walking in a forest or working in our garden. Through eating food and gardening, spending time with animals, or enjoying the beauty of a sunset, we develop a love for nature. We learn what the psalmist means when the “forests cry out for joy” (Psalm 96:12), when creation adds its voices in a cosmic doxology to “praise the name of God” (Psalm 148:5), or when the “earth teaches us” (Job 12:8). We learn to experience animals, plants, and creation as the third partner of the covenant community (Genesis 9:17), along with God and humanity.

Greening also sends market signals to the business community that citizens support sustainable business leaders, planting the seeds of the new economy. And it creates spiritual changes in how we see our relationship with creation, and prepares us for the deep changes that we urgently need to make. All good things.

But greening alone is not enough to solve the big problems of climate change, air and water pollution, ocean acidification, and species extinction. The problems lie with how we have organized our economy and designed our buildings and cities, hardwiring our problems into structures that are difficult to change.

Personal greening alone can never adequately address the enormous magnitude of climate change or the environmental crisis, any more than hosting church book clubs about racism could have ushered in effective civil rights legislation at the time of Martin Luther King Jr. Quite simply, it is the wrong scale.

But if we link our greening with talking to politicians and influencing government policy or corporate behavior, that’s much better. We need to speak out on behalf of protecting God’s creation, by being its advocate, and defend it.

As a ministry, advocacy has deep roots in the Bible. Both Abraham and Moses advocated for others, as Jesus did for his disciples through prayer. Jesus also described the Holy Spirit as an advocate for all believers. If the Holy Spirit is an advocate, then advocacy is a core ministry.

We only need think of the Spirit-filled advocacy ministries of Desmond Tutu in his anti-apartheid struggle or Dorothy Day in her work among the poor of New York. As Wendell Berry wrote in Life is a Miracle, “people exploit what they merely conclude to be of value, but they defend what they love.”

So how can we, as people of faith, take our efforts to the next level?

One way to do this is to write your MP, MLA/MPP, or City Councillor, or even better, to meet with them. “Talking with People in Power” by MP Robert Oliphant, has several great suggestions.

  1. Decide what you want to accomplish. How will you know if your goal is met? How would you define success? Write it down, and re-write it, to make your goals more clear, concise, and specific.
  2. Learn about the agenda of the political party and the individual by looking at the platform of the party. Think about the pressures of the economy, politics, and the challenges that the government faces.
  3. Advocacy is not about you presenting a problem to the politician to fix, but rather about you providing a solution for a policy challenge they face.
  4. Be persistent and patient.
  5. Thank them for their time, show interest in their work, and treat them respectfully.
  6. Check out CPJ’s Advocacy Toolkit and schedule a training workshop for your church or community.

As Wendell Berry reminds us in The Unsettling of America, “the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only hope.”

Rev. Dr. Mishka Lysack is an associate professor at the University of Calgary and is an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Calgary. This article is a re-working of material in CPJ’s 2013 book, Living Ecological Justice.

Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan/Flickr.