Happy 50th Birthday, Earth Day!

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Written by: 
Published:
April 24, 2020

Editor’s Note: This essay, written by Chris Blake, originally appeared on the SLO Adventist Church website on Earth Day, April 22, and is reprinted here with permission.

Additionally, did you know that today, April 24, is Arbor Day, which began nationally in Nebraska City, Nebraska, 50 miles from tree-filled Union College in Lincoln. The Joshua C. Turner Arboretum on Union's campus features more than 100 varieties of plants and is named for a former director of grounds. Lincoln has the most parks per capita of any city in the country.


“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” —Romans 8:19, 21, NRSV

April 22, 1970.

On a drowsy-warm Wednesday afternoon, I sat in a Cal Poly SLO literature class with about ten other students. Outside we could hear a megaphoned voice exhorting people to do something — though I couldn’t quite hear what. With the Vietnam War still raging and the women’s movement emerging and the voting age lowering from 21 to 18 and more than a million people in Biafra dying from starvation and US Postal workers striking for two weeks and the Winter Olympics competing and nuclear testing in Nevada/USSR and an earthquake destroying 254 villages in Turkey and Apollo 13 not landing on the moon and Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants killing each other and The Beatles officially breaking up, people were doing lots of exhorting in those days. (All of these took place within the previous month.)

The professor sat up front in a rumpled shirt on the edge of a desk and droned on for a few minutes until he looked at us and said, sort of exasperated, “Why aren’t you all out there? This is Earth Day."

Hey, buddy, I thought, why aren’t you out there? Walk the talk and cancel this miserable class. He continued lecturing.

I also clearly remember thinking, it doesn’t matter anyway. Nothing really matters.

***

April 24, 1976.

Here I am, attending this small Seventh-day Adventist church in San Luis Obispo on the corner of Osos and Pacific streets. I had returned the previous month from four weeks in Guatemala, where I tasted the flavors and sufferings of a foreign culture. In two months, I will be baptized (along with Julie Smith) into a new life purpose and trajectory. In three months, I will marry my high school sweetheart, Yolanda Cervantes, to begin our new life together.

The previous year, even before becoming a follower of Jesus, I had become a vegetarian for four reasons:

1. Curbing starvation. We can feed ten times as many people on a plant-based diet as on an omnivorous diet.

2. Healing the environment. According to ecological experts, becoming a vegetarian is the best thing one can do to help our environment.

3. Living healthfully. Not my first reason, but an important one, nonetheless.

4. Treating animals with respect. Jesus certainly ate fish, but the fish weren’t caged, shot up with chemicals, and killed without ever seeing the sky, as is the case with some veal and poultry.

I learned at this community of Sabbath keepers that the Sabbath liberates people, and the planet as well. At the opening of Genesis, when Sabbath first appears, God’s children are called to be caretakers of the earth “to till it and keep it” (2:15). Later, in Leviticus, God institutes a sabbath for the land: “Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard” (25:3, 4).

Niels-Erik Andreasen observes, “Every week on the Sabbath, as we contemplate God’s created works, we do not turn away from the real material world, but toward it. We affirm this as our God-given environment, where life is nurtured, sustained, provided for, and made secure.”

Moreover, I learned that after the Second Advent our final destination is not heaven, but this earth made new, a place where we plant grapes, strawberries, pineapples, and mangoes (and succulent fruits we’ve never before tasted). We don’t leave this planet and go home to heaven; we leave heaven and come home here to this blue-marbled sphere (see Revelation 21:1-5).

I began to understand why environmentalism is especially important to Christianity. And why, in Revelation 11:18, God is described as “destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

How we treat this planet is how we’ll treat our home forever. Everything matters. The New Earth is second nature to us. As caretakers for the creation again, will we trash New Earth, brazenly wasting and poisoning resources? If not, then we must not trash this earth either. Our eternal home is beneath our feet.

***

April 22, 2020.

The previous Sabbath, I planned to preach a sermon entitled, “Why Christians Should Be Better Environmentalists” in this small Seventh-day Adventist church in San Luis Obispo on the corner of Osos and Pacific streets.

But something came up. And over. And around. And through.

So here we are, complying with a “shelter in place” edict, leaving our houses only for “essential” services or activities, shutting vast sectors of our society, breathing with masks and ventilators, enduring food and cleaning supplies shortages and “flattening the curve” and compulsively washing hands and watching the death toll rise and daily “briefings” from the White House and not congregating or hugging or visiting the vulnerable. All of this took place within the previous month.

Some Good News (as John Krasinski calls it) at this moment in our planet’s history is our planet is now set free to breathe better, with air pollution levels not seen in decades. Sea turtles are thriving as nesting areas on beaches are clear. Deforestation has slowed, along with water pollution.

Inhale . . . exhale . . . inhale . . . exhale . . .

It shouldn’t take a coronacrisis to make us take care of our home. And we’ve known the essential value of this caregiving for much longer than 50 years.

God, thank You for our intricate and astonishingly beautiful biosphere. Enable us as Your creatures to learn lessons of sustainability and balance and shared joy. Help us to always walk the talk. We desire to peacefully love and pray, not to prey, in and by Jesus’ liberating and life-nourishing Spirit.
Amen.

P.S. April 21 was John Muir’s birthday. Bountiful birth anniversary, you old conservationist!

 

Chris Blake is lead pastor for the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay Seventh-day Adventist churches. He is a professor emeritus of Union College and former editor of Insight magazine.

Photo by David Alberto Carmona Coto from Pexels

 

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