Eco-Theology Gems: The Best Reading on Christianity and the Environment

By Barnett, Tanya Marcovna | Sojourners Magazine, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Eco-Theology Gems: The Best Reading on Christianity and the Environment


Barnett, Tanya Marcovna, Sojourners Magazine


In her book Super, Natural Christians, theologian Sallie McFague writes: "It is not just that other life forms are becoming scarce or extinct, but our experience of and with them is, too. The results are deep and disturbing. We not only learn less about these earth others, but disaffection sets in, and hence we care less for their well-being. We do not care about what we do not know."

When it comes to gaining or rekindling such knowing, we need encounters with "earth others"--our sisters and brothers (as St. Francis of Assisi called them) in the broader family of creation. These encounters can be both direct and indirect. Soaking in the beauty of the setting sun, working with other people to mitigate the ravages of an oil spill, gardening--such direct encounters awaken our knowing and, hopefully, our caring. Indirectly, we can learn a great deal from authors, poets, theologians, scientists, and others who have taken the time to cultivate awareness of and care for creation. A growing number of these "creation mediators" invite us into deeper knowing not only by stirring our intellects but also by awakening our emotions and senses. In doing so, they help remind us that we too are embodied members of creation, not just distant, intellectual observers. The following are several of my favorite creation mediators and some of the fruits of their work.

Roger Gottlieb offers a feast for our minds and spirits in his comprehensive anthology This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. Its 75 selections introduce a wide array of creation mediators from around the world and across religious traditions, races, genders, and economic realities. It includes key writings in Christian ecological theology and ethics, including those from Lynn White, Thomas Berry, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sallie McFague, and Pope John Paul II. It also includes selections from writers who link "nature and spirit" (Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Terry Tempest Williams), environmental-justice advocates (Vandana Shiva, The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit), and creation liturgists and poets (Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy).

Sallie McFague has crafted three primers that seriously examine Christian theology in light of current Earth crises and Earth's ongoing magnificence: The Body of God: An Ecological Theology; Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature, and Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. In The Body of God, McFague reminds us that the notion of God as incarnate and embodied, not only transcendent, is central to the Christian tradition. She then explores the implications of Christian "radical immanence" on how we relate with God, one another, and all creation. Building on this core theology, McFague presents creative tools (nature writing, concrete actions) for nurturing an incarnational faith and the work of justice in Super, Natural Christians. McFague's most recent book, Life Abundant, is perhaps her most personal and passionate work. In it, she helps North American Christians authentically examine our worldviews, faith stories, and the social/ecological impacts of our lifestyles in order to better live out a vision of the abundant life that includes all creation.

In his book Earth Community, Earth Ethics, Larry Rasmussen writes, "Not just knowledge (scientia) but wisdom (sapientia) and the psalmist's contrite heart and humble spirit are requirements of sustainable community itself." Rasmussen gives us an impressive dose of Earth scientia in the first section of his book ("Earth Sean")--a section that bravely examines ecological (and related social) realities of our time. But he doesn't stop here. Throughout this exquisitely crafted book, he calls upon the sapientia of religious (Martin Luther, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice) and secular (David Korten, Alice Walker) voices to help us better hear the sapientia of creation. …

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