Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Slow Death of Hope for Creation

My husband works at a homeless shelter in downtown Toronto. He says that one of the hardest things that the staff struggle with, and often burn out from, is the slow death of hope for the people they work with. It’s easier to be cynical than to keep hoping, to celebrate a step forward when you know that more than likely the person will step back, or fall down again. Sometimes there are beautiful ‘success’ stories, as indeed the organization provides resources to help people in the face of material poverty. But it’s also a success story to simply sit with someone, every day, for years, through their struggles, through their failings. We’re not called to love people into being better – we are just called to love them, as Christ loves us, despite our constant failings, thorough brokenness, and inability to save ourselves.

I have been experiencing the slow death of hope for the beauty of creation. More specifically, about people’s apparent lack of interest in the state of creation, and even more, my own inability to do anything. I’m not a fan of fear statistics about rising sea levels, extinction rates, or other doomsday predictions. These inspire guilt, and often despair, as it seems things are too far out of control. A much better motivator that is more rooted in scripture is that we are called to care for creation because we love it. As we love others despite their, and our own, perpetual brokenness so we must look at our broken earth. It is broken at our own hands, and we are to continue loving it, and those that perpetuate its brokenness.

As much as a natural scene (I am a fan of rivers and lakes, personally) inspires awe and wonder they are now often accompanied with the lamenting thought, “what have we done?” This is how God made the world, and look at what we have done to it. Even more, we hardly care. This is by no means intended to inspire guilt, as I am in that place too often. Another large part of my loss of hope is the fact that I can hardly do anything, even if I knew what to do.

Reducing my meat consumption in response to the immense toll that the meat industry takes on the environment means I would have to find protein some other way. One of the best (?) ways to do this is through soybean products, which as a crop are responsible for a significant deforestation and farmer displacement.

As much as I might ride my bicycle instead of driving a car, there are industries and systems in place that pour out pollutants that operate on a scale that hardly seems accessible to me.

I have bought used jewelry to avoid mining and labour issues, but have bought far more electronics that have microchips and materials that play into these same problems – blood  diamonds are trendy, used laptops are not.

Even more, many of these alternative options are only available to me by being middle class, having the time and resources to research and afford these options. Buying locally and ethically, taking the time to compost, recycle, garden, bike, researching what you buy from where, are acts of a certain privilege. Even though environmental concerns disproportionately impact those in poverty, often those who are bound by poverty have more immediate concerns about their health and family, than where their waste might go.
One of the hardest parts about caring for creation is to continue to love the broken church that has largely failed to respond to the groaning of the earth, and to accept grace for myself in this failure as well. We can lament this, but we don’t have to stay there. The type of hope we have is not in our power to reduce carbon emissions. 

We are called to love and care for the earth – but how? We are called to love others – but they fail, they let us down, they relapse, as do we in response to others’ (and God’s) love for us. The love that Christ demonstrates is a suffering love.[1]

In the face of melting ice caps, of knowing your reusable coffee mugs will also sit in a landfill, of the immense consumption and waste of North American culture, we are called to love the earth. Redemption and hope in our own life is not out of the question, as much has been and will continue to be done to foster stewardship of the earth.  But we don’t love creation in order to fix it.

[1] More on this idea: