February 13, 2011 / Praxis
An interview between TOJ Editor-in-Chief Chris Keller and the author of GENERATION EX-CHRISTIAN, Drew Dyck.
May 21, 2009
Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.
Nothing and no one is as beautiful as God, and he has created us to value and desire beauty. But what does this really mean, practically? How do we experience God’s beauty in a more tangible and personal way?
In church we sing about desperately wanting to know God more, to hear his voice, to see him, even to touch him. And out of a desire to be in closer relationship with him we read his book—the Bible—and pray. We worship together and share in the sacraments. We give our time, money, and lives to follow him. But for some reason, we often forget that one of the most ancient and yet timeless ways that we experience God’s heart-racing, jaw-dropping, knee-knocking, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, life-changing beauty (or at least a healthy measure of it) is simply by exploring and caring for the amazing world he has made.
I work for a student creation care network called Renewal (renewingcreation.org) that is growing on campuses all across the United States and Canada. We’re a grassroots movement—students are the primary leaders as the only non-student staff members are two of us recent grads who help coordinate our many efforts. Within the short eight months since the founding of Renewal, we have grown exponentially from a core team of twelve passionate activists to a movement that is connected with nearly forty campuses and counting.
These are exciting times for us, but they are also very busy times. It is challenging to carve out time to experience the creation we’re working so hard to care for. So I jumped at the chance to spend a week with two of my roommates on the St. Lucie River in South Florida. The St. Lucie River is a shallow brackish waterway, rich in biodiversity, that drains into the Atlantic Ocean on one end and originates at Lake Okeechobee (via a canal dug by the Army Corp of Engineers) at the other. Over the past decade, it has experienced more than its fair share of pollution and degradation, but thanks in large part to the efforts of community activists and local anglers it has started to make a steady recovery.
There are few better ways to pass the time than by fishing in a canoe along the mangrove-lined islands of the St. Lucie, sharing the sunset with two of my best friends. On our first evening we sat with the anchor line pulled taut against the receding tide, watching as our bobbers created ripples on the glassy water surface. Pelicans and ospreys dove over schools of sardines in the distance, a flock of ibises poked around exposed oyster beds with their bright orange beaks, and a suspicious great blue heron watched our every move from an overhanging branch nearby. In good time, the sky unfolded from a deep blue to a bright orange. We relaxed together, chatting about anything that came to mind but nothing really in particular. It was a blessed, tranquil moment.
Then, without warning, a wave of about fifty shiny, silver-colored fish came flying out of the water not five yards away. It was a school of foot-long striped mullet, one of the species at the bottom of the food chain that gets eaten by just about every other fish in the river. Close behind was a hungry school of crevalle jack. The jack were tearing up the water, attempting to stun the fleeing mullet long enough to chomp them down. It was quite a sight to see the feeding frenzy so up close, and there were times we thought some of the mullet would actually land in the canoe in their haste to escape. All in all, it lasted less than thirty seconds before the water quieted and peace returned to our stretch of the St. Lucie—at least on the surface.
It took us a little longer to recover from our astonishment, however, and even then, we only managed an awe-filled “wow.” We had come out on the water with minds focused on own lives—what we’re having for dinner, what emails we need to respond to, when we’re going to run errands—and we unexpectedly (but not surprisingly) encountered a world much bigger than our own, one that does not order itself around strictly human purposes. We encountered God’s world.
And our reaction was to pause, to stop thinking about ourselves, our achievements, our desires, and our worries. We found our hearts and minds joining with the angels and all of creation to give praise to God for his beauty, crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
At Renewal, we believe that God created every square inch of this planet, sustains it, and is reconciling it back through his blood shed on the cross (Col. 1:15-20). The scriptures tell us that creation declares the glory of God and reveals his eternal power and divine nature (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20), and we can expect to find his Spirit at work in creation, constantly renewing the face of the earth (see Psalm 104:30). We can expect to see beauteous St. Lucie miracles.
And if we are serious about desiring God, we should be all about exploring, uncovering, and experiencing his beauty as it is reflected in creation. In academia, we call such pursuits ecology or geology. Practiced more informally, however, this may be known as hiking, camping, gardening, snorkeling, canoeing—and the list goes on. Regardless of what we call it and what it looks like, the mullet and jacks remind me through their display that, ultimately, reveling in the beauty of the creation is nothing less than a form of worship of the creator.
Christians should also be leaders in creating more beauty so that the world looks more like God and his kingdom. In other words, we are created to be stewards and master gardeners; our first human vocation in the Garden of Eden was to “work” and “take care of” creation (see Genesis 2:15). This work can take many forms; a growing number of Christians today run urban gardens, create wildlife habitat, restore wetlands, remove invasive species, and so much more (check out Green Revolution, IVP 2009, for more stories of how communities can and are making a difference).
The bottom line is that creating more beauty in the world is a part of what it means for us to bear the image of God and point others toward him.
This is why Renewal spearheaded our first annual Day of Service for God’s Creation in April. Though our movement is spread out across many campuses, we wanted to demonstrate our unity of purpose by getting our hands dirty and creating more beauty in our local communities. We cleared debris from highways and planted trees on our campuses. A group at Asbury College planted native flowers in a visible part of their quad, while students at Montreat College in North Carolina helped organize a clean-up of Flat Creek, which runs through their campus and into the neighboring town of Black Mountain.
By taking these kinds of practical steps to help the creation around us better reflect the beauty and glory of its creator, we act to renew rather than degrade, diminish, and consume. With each picked-up piece of trash and planted tree, we help create beauty, enhance the ability of creation to witness to God, and take another step closer to Isaiah’s prophecy that one day there will be no more harm and destruction, that one day “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Is.11:9b).
Ben Lowe is the author of Green Revolution (IVP 2009) and co-coordinator of Renewal, a grassroots network committed to equipping this student generation in the compassionate stewardship of all of God’s creation. He has a degree in environmental studies from Wheaton College, and his work is based out of Chicago, Illinois. Find out more about Renewal here: http://renewingcreation.org/.