Reimagining Mission from the 'Ground Up' [By: Sam]

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A while back a friend who directs a creation care NGO in the USA gave me a bumper sticker that I display shamelessly on my laptop. It reads:

'Treat the earth as if your life depends upon it' Genesis 2:15

There are at least three reasons that I decided to turn that bumper sticker into a laptop sticker. First, it expresses the theological impact of Genesis 2:15the inextricable connection between humanity and soil, expressed originally through a play on words between adam (literally, the 'earth creature') and adamah (the fertile soil from which God created Adam). Second, I display it because it so concisely paraphrases the first biblical 'job description' given to humansnamely, to serve and observe adamah (Gen. 2:15). Third, I want to have a daily reminder that caring directly for adamah is a way of connecting deeply with creation and aligning my actions with the promise, 'See, I am making all things new' (Rev. 21:5).

As I write this today, I am aware that connecting earth care and Christian ministry might come across as a supreme example of 'preaching to the converted.' Today, the Church of England embraces creation care as one of its 'Five Marks of Mission.' But in my case, it took awhile for the penny to drop, and I arrived as a latecomer to the party where earth care and people care were already being joined together and celebrated as authentic expressions of Christian mission. You see, I was neither shaped to be a Bible-bashing fundamentalist with a bumper sticker about the rapture (i.e., 'In case of rapture, this vehicle will remain unmanned!'), nor was I shaped to fit in easily with my tree-hugging, nature-loving university friends whose bumper sticker 'theologies' advocated saving the planet by 'practicing random acts of kindness.' To be precise, I was raised as moderate 'mainliner.' Intuitively, I knew there had to be more to following Jesus than either 'not getting left behind' or merely acting in a kind, random way. But as a moderate mainliner, I had a long way to go to connect with 'treat[ing] the earth as if your life depends upon it' as an expression of my decision to 'accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.' In other words, I wasn't sure what following Jesus had to do with 'hugging trees' or 'getting my hands dirty.'

In fact, I had to undergo what Pope Francis has called an 'ecological conversion.' In my 20s and 30s, I studied academic theology and could analyze the anatomy of theological system. I could regurgitate key points about a Christian doctrine of creation and spot doctrinal inconsistencies from a mile away.

But did I actively 'treat the earth as if [my] life depends upon it?' Probably not. The turning point for my 'ecological conversion' did not happen in a classroom, nor through a book. It happened in the most unlikely of places: on the fifth floor of an apartment building.

Flashback to 2008: I was visiting my Brazilian friend Claudio Oliver. I noticed that Claudio kept making short trips to his balcony. When I asked him about what he was doing, he called me to his balcony and showed me his worm bin and his vertical garden: varieties of lettuces as well as root crops growing inside up-cycled two liter bottles. These were filled with the rich compost taken from his worm bin.

In response to my onslaught of questions, Claudio explained how it all worked: instead of treating his food discards as lixo (i.e., rubbish) he fed it to his worms, who then went to work turning what used to be 'rubbish' into rich soil. I was fascinated by his description of how this fifth-floor garden worked, but what impressed me most were the reasons why he was doing this. Claudio explained that his little balcony garden was an experiment in finding responses for treating creation as creation, and not as rubbish, for honoring the Creator as Creator, and for offering signs of hope in the midst of so much waste. In other words, Claudio was experimenting in finding ways of living out the truth of the laptop sticker: 'treat the earth as if your life depends upon it.'

I have spent these last seven years trying to live more deeply into the 'ecological conversion' that was triggered on Claudio's balcony. The basic insight to which I keep returning is this: by cultivating the soil and thereby doing life and ministry from the 'ground up,' we discover how our reconnection with the soil (adamah) allows God to enliven our soul and our service with and to one another. Through reconnection with the soil, we begin to reconnect with the food cycle, and as we do, we rediscover the joy of our first 'job description' (Gen. 2:15) and the truth of St. Irenaeus' classic saying: 'The glory of God is the human person fully alive.'


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