Yesterday was Earth Day, this week is Earth Week. Many of my creation care friends are in Washington DC right now involved in a number of large scale events that we all hope will have great impact on the environmental and creation care conversation going on in the US in general and within the evangelical community in particular. I’m not in Washington; I’ve just returned from the bustling metropolis of Arcadia, Florida – where a different kind of and altogether remarkable creation care event took place this weekend. Let me tell you about it…
There are big things happening in Washington DC this week: Yesterday marked the kickoff of a year of creation care programming at the National Cathedral in partnership with Blessed Earth, an event that included a visit with Wendell Berry, who is as close to a superstar for the environmental movement as you will find. The Seminary Stewardship Alliance, a much needed program to encourage evangelical seminaries to train future church leaders who can lead the evangelical creation care was launched at the same event. There will be a National Endowment for the Arts lecture by Berry this evening at the Kennedy Center. And the third annual Day of Prayer for Creation Care occurs on Thursday, hosted by the Evangelical Environmental Network, featuring Dr. Chris Wright of the UK as keynote speaker. [If you’re in the Washington area, I hope you can take part in these events, especially the Day of Prayer on Thursday.
Far away from Washington, in the rural town of Arcadia, Florida, a very different creation care event took place this weekend. Fifty people paid $40. each to sit through a five-hour seminar on caring for God’s creation. Admittedly not all paid the full fare, and not all were able to stay for the entire event. It’s not easy to set aside a Friday evening and half of Saturday, no matter how committed you are. But it was still remarkable.
Even more so was who these people were. Arcadia is not Madison Wisconsin, that’s for sure! While Arcadia is the site of the Desoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, one of the largest photovoltaic arrays in the US, that was not the Arcadia represented at our seminar. These were farmers. They were not next-generation anything. They grow citrus. They breed beef cattle. One woman’s husband makes his living selling fertilizer. My friend Mark Davis, the guy who organized the event is a food-animal veterinarian who treats large herds of cattle before they are shipped from Florida to Texas. We are talking about people who work at the very beginning of the industrial agriculture food chain in America. They feed the nation – and the world – and they are proud of it.
Most environmental seminars that feature food would not start with steaks ‘big enough to cover your plate’. This one did. On the other hand, most people who are farming land that has been in their family for six generations wouldn’t be caught dead at an ‘environmental’ event of any kind. These folks came, paid a substantial admission fee for the privilege, and proceeded to wrestle with the topic of God, creation and the environmental crisis in a deep and profound way.
What was going on here? Why would people who are supposed to be allergic to anything related to environmental causes spend a weekend like this? What are the lessons for the creation care movement?
First, a reminder: There has to be a local champion. None of those who came to the seminar knew me or had even heard of me before. They certainly did not come in response to my reputation. They came because Mark Davis invited them. In some cases, Mark is their vet. In others he’s just their friend. He knows them – and he knows they need to hear about what’s going on with God’s creation. Soil depletion, water issues, climate change issues from weather to sea level rise – there are a hundred pieces of the environmental crisis that are going to affect these folks directly. And Mark cares because God has touched his heart for this cause dramatically. [Mark has just finished a 23 minute video called Horns of Hope describing his passion for God’s creation and specifically his work to help save the black rhino of Africa. I’ll post a trailer here as soon as it’s available.]
Second, an observation: When we start with the Bible, people listen. The Our Father’s World Seminar is designed around the conviction that God’s people will respond to God’s word when it is presented in a way that is relevant, interesting and connected to their situations. Out of five hours of teaching, more than half are devoted entirely to biblical concepts. While there is plenty of material on the crisis itself, those sessions are not the ones that change people’s minds and lives: it’s the Bible that does that. And because we agree on the primacy of biblical truth, we can avoid or defuse most of the political themes that often confuse these kinds of discussions today.
Third, a principle: Wars are won on the ground, not in the air. Don’t misunderstand me: The events taking place in Washington this week are important. High profile decision makers in that city will, perhaps, be persuaded to pay attention and important and necessary changes in national policies may result from these efforts. I hope so. But the events are only distant rumbles to the farmers of Arcadia. Even if they were to hear about these events, there would be no impact on how they think or the decisions they make in their own lives. The battle for the hearts and minds of people like this will not, cannot be won from Washington. If we want to win this battle, we’re going to have to go to the Arcadias, encourage the Mark Davises – and share biblical truth.
What happens next in Arcadia? I don’t know. I can’t wait to find out. But I do know that there are now 50 people who are thinking differently about God, creation and their own responsibilities this week. And that’s how it begins.