My Mennonite mother-in-law can scrape the last molecule out of a jar with a spatula. To avoid wasting food, leftovers are passed around her table until someone relents and eats the last tomato. Simple living – including conserving resources, cooking from scratch, making clothing, recycling, and repairing used items – is a valuable part of the Mennonite tradition.
A revival of simple living is occurring as many Canadians become environmentally conscious. We could surf the “green wave” just because everyone else is doing it. Better yet, let’s explore and embrace the Christian motivations behind the trend.
God asked us to look after it
After creating the heavens and the earth, God pronounced his stunning, self-perpetuating, and life-sustaining world “very good.” Former MCC Ontario creation care coordinator Darren Kropf says, “If everyone spent 10 minutes [a day] under a tree, we would solve a lot of the
problems we have just because we recognize the beauty.”
God made humans in his image and told them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). Instructions to “subdue” and “rule over” seem to indicate that we can do whatever we want with plants and animals. However, that’s not the kind of example God sets as an overseer.
While Jesus was on earth, he modelled servant leadership. Could servant leadership also apply to our relationship with the earth?
In Genesis 2, God says he put humans in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it.” That sounds more like stewardship than reigning over creation as self-serving despots.
While studying at Conrad Grebel College, in Waterloo, Ont., Kropf was disappointed when he realized that the church has often neglected and treated the natural world as disposable. Later, he discovered that “caring for creation is at the heart of the gospel.” Kropf believes Jesus came to restore all the relationships that were broken when sin entered the picture – including our relationship with creation. “An opportunity to renew the earth is an opportunity to see God at work,” he says.
My grandchildren should enjoy it
We’ve been experiencing some extreme weather across the globe – tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, floods, and droughts. The majority of scientists believe that greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) released into the atmosphere have gradually raised the average global temperature.
Among other effects, this rise in temperature could be responsible for the increasing number of hurricanes, since these ferocious storms get their power from warm oceans. Hotter temperatures also lead to faster evaporation of water, which could be causing increased drought. Not everyone agrees that human activities like burning fossil fuels, clearing trees, and raising large herds of methane-excreting livestock are contributing to global warming and climate change. But a strong consensus is building.
According to Henry J. Rempel, a member of River East MB Church, Winnipeg, who teaches high school students about climate change, “We have a responsibility to cut back on our carbon as much as we possibly can.” To conserve energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, Rempel and his wife have retrofitted their older home, and take public transit or ride their bicycles. When it’s -30 C on a Winnipeg winter day and Rempel’s face is “all frosted up,” people ask him why he rides his bike 12 months of the year. He responds, “I do this for my kids.”
With a view to leaving the earth in good condition for future generations, farmer Andy Abrahams lovingly cares for his soil, and avoids the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. “The philosophy behind organic farming is to work in sync with nature,” explains the member of Highland Community (MB) Church in Abbotsford, B.C.
Knowing that stressed plants attract insects, Abrahams chooses plants that are well-suited to B.C.’s Fraser Valley. Many of the dairy farms that surround him grow corn for their cows using chemical fertilizers. Neighbouring farmers’ fertilizers ensure a steady yield but may destroy beneficial organisms in the topsoil – which could make the land unproductive in the long term.
Other issues will affect the world we leave to our descendants: the increased rate of animal and plant extinction caused by habitat destruction and climate change, air and water pollution causing disease and water shortages, and depleting nonrenewable natural resources like coal, natural gas, and oil.
It’s a justice issue
Some Christians feel that caring for the environment siphons resources and attention from important work, like caring for people living in poverty. Others believe the two go hand in hand.
Sara Jane Schmidt, worship pastor at River East MB Church in Winnipeg, believes we can help the poor more effectively if we deal with systemic problems like not living within the limits of our global ecosystem. Because people in disadvantaged countries are most affected by climate change, she feels creation care is one piece of caring for the poor. In her view, “We the rich who have exploited the earth owe it to these folks to work to restore and make amends where we can.”
Rempel agrees that taking care of the earth is a justice issue. “It’s just not right for so few people to use so much, and worse yet to squander and spoil it for the rest.”
Reading books like The Ominvore’s Dilemma caused Abrahams to consider the “back story” of cheap food. “Maybe it costs me less, but what are the hidden costs? Who else is paying the price? Maybe it’s some banana picker on the other side of the world who will only live until he is 40 because he’s working in pesticide-ridden fields,” says Abrahams.
Showing the world we care
As Abrahams and his wife Cara began to understand how their choices affected their global neighbours, they felt compelled to make lifestyle changes. One major change was starting an organic farming operation three years ago. Weekly, they provide boxes of local produce to about 50 Abbotsford-area families. Abrahams believes that working at the physically laborious job of organic farming, and accepting a lower salary than he could make in another profession, reveals his love for people around the world.
Since many Canadians are concerned about the environment, caring for the earth through actions like cleaning up parks, planting gardens, and retrofitting our churches can build bridges with non-Christians. “There is opportunity to use our buildings as a witness to the community,” says Kropf, who adds that solar panels on a church vividly communicate our values.
“I think it’s important we understand that our environmental problems are not just technological. It’s a way of relating to the earth, and ultimately a way of relating to God,” says Kropf.
When Abrahams became aware of how his lifestyle affected the earth, he had a choice. “I could go on with the typical North American life, not thinking about the cost to creation, to future generations, and other people in the world, or I could be honest with myself and try to live in a way that doesn’t wreak so much havoc.”
We each have that same choice.
—Sandra Reimer rides her bike, plants a garden, and reuses gift wrap as expressions of love for God and care for the earth. She and her family attend Glencairn MB Church in Kitchener, Ont.