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10.06.2024

Everyday earthkeeping 3/4 | Create a flourishing home

The views expressed in these blogs belong to the authors, not necessarily LICC. In this series, we’re hosting a conversation in blog form.

‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters.’ 
Psalm 24:1–2 

Ever wonder, then, how our Creator feels about the state his planet is in?  

How would Jesus – the Lord of all creation – have us keep and cultivate his planet in an age caught between mindless overconsumption and eco-anxiety? 

That’s the question this blog series explores. Over four articles, our contributors – Bethany Kunert, Jo Herbert-James, Paul Kunert, and Laura Young – will have a conversation, responding to each other’s reflections as they ‘triple listen’ to wisdom from the word of God, the world, and one another. The goal? To help us practise hope-full earthkeeping in our everyday lives as whole-life disciples, wherever we are, whoever we are, and whatever we do. 

The series also accompanies our Wisdom Lab: Everyday Earthkeeping event, at which each of the authors will deliver a TED-style talk and bring together evidence-based insights and theological wisdom, making space for honest dialogue to squarely face the duty and delight of ecological responsibility on our beautiful but broken planet. 

So far, Bethany Kunert – a young geographer passionate about protecting biodiversity – helped us listen to the groans of the planet and her generation, calling the church to step up as earthkeepers. Then, Jo Herbert-James stepped back to imagine what should be going on, seeing Bethany’s critique within the context of the biblical story from creation to new creation via the cross, as our Creator invites every person to love the planet like Jesus did.  

Now, in part three, Paul Kunert – an energy transition consultant and the author of Jesus Died to Save the Planet – offers wisdom for how to respond, creating change that makes sense to young adults wondering whether following Jesus really makes a difference in the midst of a climate crisis. That sets up Laura Young, a climate activist and environmental scientist, to help us communicate the good news of an orthodox and yet authentically green gospel as a whole-life witness.  

Through this series, we’ll be inspired to live more sustainably right where we are, from a place of hope, honouring the Lord of all creation. Join us as we seek a wise way forward together.  

A way of life that brings life 

Bethany – who was interviewed in the first piece in this series – has the particular insight that comes from having studied with some of the leading climate scientists for three years. She knows, intimately, the damage we’re doing to God’s world. But what we’re hearing from her is, I think, typical of many of us. And when she thinks about the ecological crisis, she sometimes feels anxiety, guilt, resignation, and occasionally hope. For most of the time, though, she has decided not to think about it, to leave it in the classroom, in the workplace – the part of her mind, and our minds, too, where we put things that are too hard to deal with.  

Like many of her peers, she’s made plenty of choices in her life that work for the flourishing of the earth – living more simply, eating less meat, mostly holidaying locally, cycling to work, buying second-hand – but struggles to feel like it’s making much difference. And when she sees the profligate lifestyles of the super-rich and the carbon footprint of pop icons for her generation, she finds it hard to stay motivated. I’d say it’s likely a lot of us can identify with what Bethany’s saying.  

Next, Jo Herbert-James in her essay has brilliantly located us in this good-but-corrupted world, which we were given to serve, take care of, and protect, but which we are devastating. We live now in this age after God’s great intervention in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ, but before the final consummation of his completed work on the cross. That work – the mission of God, in Christ – was to make peace with all things, to renew the whole earth, to restore everything. And it was especially to restore us humans to our full humanity, in right relationship with him, once again governing the world around us in the same self-giving love as its Creator, as we were originally called to do. 

My purpose in this third instalment, picking up from where Jo Herbert-James located us in God’s mission, is to suggest key features of a way of life for the flourishing of the earth and the good of our neighbours. First, though, because it’s helpful to have an idea of where we’re going, let’s take a moment to imagine that flourishing world. 

A possible world

Demographers project that the global population will level off at about 10 billion people in around 2080, and then start going down. That might seem like a lot of people, but a world of 10 billion prospering people and a flourishing earth is possible. Join me imagining what this might look like…  

It’d be a society running nearly entirely without coal, petrol, diesel, gas, and aviation fuel, with warm homes, hot showers, and journeys powered by electricity derived from wind, waves, solar, and nuclear energy. All our stuff would be made using clean energy and sustainable raw materials. We’d eat fewer animals and a lot less beef, lamb, and dairy products. We’d farm in sympathy with the living world around us, and we’d keep our waste out of our fields, skies, waterways, and seas. We’d mainly live in warm-in-winter-cool-in-summer houses and apartments in well-connected towns and cities. As a result, our land, rivers, seas, and skies would teem with life. 

As Bethany said, this isn’t about ditching technology in a return to a pastoral pre-industrial idyll. I’m no techno-optimist – technology won’t solve all our problems and may, in fact, be a big contributor to many of them. [1] But we can’t all head for a cabin in the woods or take up subsistence farming. [2] If we did, it would be an ecological disaster. [3] It’s rather about moving faster to ditch old, dirty – and adopt new, clean – technology.  

I hear Bethany say that the changes we need are so big, she can’t see them happening. Well, they are big. But they’re not impossible. We have all the technology we need, though improvements are always welcome.[4] What we need is the will to take it up, at pace and scale. And, at root, that depends on an individual and collective vision for the kind of future we want, and, even more importantly, on ditching the self-interest that too often governs our lives in favour of another, truer way of being human.  

Becoming human

Jo Herbert-James‘ piece has shown us that the work of God in Christ is to enable us to do just that. On the cross, Jesus not only pays the price for our rebellion and failure, but also restores to us our agency and responsibility as humans. He makes us human again. Discipleship – following the way of Jesus – is about becoming more truly human.   

This is hugely important, for two reasons. First, when we see anyone – whether they’re committed to following Jesus or not – acting to protect the earth, we can recognise and affirm that they’re working out of God’s mandate. Whether they’re changing their way of life, volunteering for Greenpeace, making changes to how their business sources energy, farming in balance with wildlife, or acting in a hundred other ways, we can say to Bethany and her peers: well done, you are acting in accord with image of God in you. If we have been slow to stand with them, and if we who follow Jesus have failed to say (or even realise, perhaps) that the Creator God loves what he has made, and died and rose to redeem and renew it, shame on us. 

Second, as we live lives which are more at peace with the earth, we see that this is not about restraining our true humanity, but about growing into it. This is the way we are meant to be. We are beginning to live with the grain of God’s universe rather than against it.[5] We probably all have had that sense of guilt at the daunting list of ‘oughts’ – the things we ought to be doing – and been exhausted, overwhelmed by them. But, if we flip it round and say this is not about restraints, constraints, and oughts, but about aligning with God’s mission in Christ, growing into our true God-given, Christ-redeemed human-ness, then what? Then we find that serving and protecting the earth is our worship, and in it we find fullness of joy and depth of happiness.  

As Jo Herbert-James showed us, the hallmark of true humanity is found in the self-giving way of Jesus. This way is the key to ditching the corrupt self-interested, violent way of being human that so grips us and our society. 

This is the big picture we need to keep in mind. This is about – in the power of the Spirit of the Creator-Redeemer God – becoming more human. We do not do what we do because it will – in and of itself – stop global heating or the overfishing of our seas. We do it because we are aligning ourselves with God’s mission, living his way in his world, in anticipation of the day when what he has accomplished on the cross will be fully realised and his rule uncontested at last. 

In a society which often has quite another agenda, we constantly need to remind ourselves of God’s mission and purpose. Perhaps you could pause once or twice a day to pray a simple prayer, perhaps before a meal or as you enter your workplace: 

Father God,
Maker of all things,
Reconciler of all things,
Thank you for [this food, this work, this community, this place]
Please help us
To live in such a way 
As to be at peace with you,
With one another,
And with all that you have made. 

Holding this big picture in our minds, I’m going to suggest three key features of a way of life for the flourishing of the earth and the good of our neighbours, all of which are about aligning ourselves with God’s mission. 

Aligning with God’s mission – in community  

Firstly, we align with God’s missions by living in community with others. It can be very hard living a life of discipleship on our own; that’s why we need to be doing it in community with others. But it’s more than that. Jo Herbert-James showed us in her piece that the church is the community of those who’ve said ‘yes’ to Jesus, to God’s mission, to following the way which makes us fully human.  

That may be quite different to how we perceive the church. But it is, nonetheless, who we are. Too often church – even in its more modern expressions – is reduced to religiosity on a Sunday morning. Too seldom do we see ourselves as God sees us: humanity made new, for the healing of the world. But, as Paul says, ‘if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old is gone, the new is come!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

It’s primarily as we gather with other followers of Jesus, that we work out this way of life that brings flourishing, and what that means for all of us in all of life. I’d suggest then, as a practice, that you link up with others who are looking to live this way of Jesus. Maybe that’s in your local church community. Maybe it’s a small group within your church. Or maybe it’s with like-minded friends and peers in your area, or even virtually. 

If you’re a church leader, you might want to ask, ‘are we the kind of church where someone desperate to follow Jesus’ way would feel welcome?’. Does our church’s purpose statement – what we’re here for – reflect the mission of God? Second, who have we appointed to drive, equip, and hold us accountable for change? And third, and most importantly, how do we talk about the gospel? Is it the whole gospel that Jo Herbert-James laid out in her piece, or is it an individualised partial gospel? 

Or, if you’re part of a church that still has some way to go, you could start to ask your leadership team those same questions. And I’d encourage you to put them in touch with the soon-to-be-released Jesus Died to Save the Planet. 

Aligning with God’s mission – speaking up 

The second feature of aligning with God’s mission is speaking up. We live in a complex society. We depend on one another for our prosperity. And the flourishing of the earth depends not just on individual consumer choices, but on community and societal agreement – locally, nationally, and even internationally. For example: 

  • Housebuilding standards for energy efficient housing; 
  • Water company regulation for clean waterways; 
  • Marine protection and fishing quotas for flourishing seas; 
  • Farming and countryside incentives for prosperous harvests and thriving rural environments; and 
  • Low carbon electricity generation for clean, secure energy.  

These are all societal agreements, expressed in regulation and legislation, or lack of it. In this complex society it’s imperative that we speak up for the kinds of agreement that align with God’s mission.

There are lots of ways you can speak up. Join an effective campaigning organisation, read their stuff, and take part in some of the things they’re doing. For example, you could join A Rocha or the RSPB to campaign for regenerative farming practices, or Blue Marine Foundation or Surfers Against Sewage to advocate for thriving oceans.  

Or as a church community, think about how you can engage with your political representatives. Sometimes they’re delighted to hear from their constituents! Perhaps you and a couple of others in your church community could be tasked with raising God’s mission to renew the earth with your council or your MP. And, of course, don’t be missing in action on election day. Check to see who has policies which promote a society more at peace with the earth and one another, and who’ll make your vote count. A good starting point is the Church of England Environment Programme’s recently published election guide.

Aligning with God’s mission – our everyday lives 

The third feature is that we live a way of life for the flourishing of the earth in our homes and places of work. Think about the work you do. In what way is it making the world a better place? Is it doing it in a way that makes for the flourishing of God’s earth, or its destruction? Are there ways your organisation can do it better? If you’re a housebuilder, how well made are the houses you build? If you’re at a water company, how can you lean into prioritising clean waterways? If you work in electricity generation, how can you work towards generating low carbon energy? And if you feel constrained by industry regulation, in what ways could you engage the regulator for better rules? 

Some of us here, like Bethany, are just starting out in the world of work. Maybe you can think about what kind of company you believe brings God’s shalom, or what kind of role you could take on – over time – in helping the company you work for more closely embody holistic flourishing. Maybe you could, as my friend Anne did, start a climate and ecology group at your workplace – she was overwhelmed by the numbers that came. Or, perhaps like another friend Andy, you could swap accountancy for driving carbon disclosure policies. 

And finally, think about the choices you can make about how you heat your home, how far you travel and how you do it, what you eat, and what you buy and throw away. There are simple choices each one of us can make in all these areas that will bring us into a life more aligned with God’s mission. 

Being human – living with the grain of the universe 

We’ve looked at three features of a way of life for the flourishing of the earth and the good of our neighbours. The first is that we do this in community with those also seeking to follow the way of Jesus. We will need the encouragement. Second, we speak up, because a flourishing earth depends on societal agreements. We speak up for God’s vision of humanity and his action to redeem us – for the prosperity of all nations and the flourishing of the whole earth. And third, we find a way of life in our working, resting, playing, praying lives which makes peace with the earth, as our true worship of the Creator-Redeemer God. 

There’s always the danger, as we start to map out a way of everyday earthkeeping, that we lose ourselves in a to-do list of ‘oughts’. There’s a danger we forget who we are and why we’re doing what we do.  

It’s imperative that we remain rooted in the mission of God, expressed supremely in the cross of Christ. We do what we do, not because it is on its own going to change the world, but because we’re aligning ourselves with his mission, stepping into the fullness of our God-given God-redeemed humanity, for the good of the world. As we live this way, in the community of those who follow him, speaking up for a society more at peace, and running with the grain of the universe, we find that anxiety and guilt are shed, replaced by joy and hope of a life lived with him.  

Would this way of life be one that’s attractive to Bethany, her friends and colleagues, and the watching world? Laura will explore that in our final piece in this series. 

Paul Kunert
Paul is an energy transition consultant and author of the soon to be released essay – in partnership with LICC – Jesus Died to Save the Planet. 

 

Discussion questions 

  1. How will understanding discipleship as ‘becoming more human’ help you live a way of life that works for the flourishing of the earth and the good of your neighbours?
  2. How could you help your church community become more aligned with God’s mission?
  3. How will you, individually or as a community, speak up for God’s earth and stand with your neighbour?
  4. In what ways does the work you do serve others and the earth? How could it do that better? 
  5. Which of the practices suggested in this essay could you weave into your everyday life? 


Endnotes

[1] Exploring this point would be a whole other essay, but, for now, I’d say the two main issues with technology are: (i) the vision of humanity behind the development of today’s tech; and (ii) ‘the human propensity to [mess] things up’. This helpful reframing of ‘sin’ comes from Francis Spufford, Unapologetic (Faber and Faber, 2013).

[2] Mark Boyle, The Way Home (Oneworld, 2019).   

[3] Hannah Ritchie, Not the End of the World (Penguin Random House, 2024), 167.

[4] Rowan Hooper, How to Spend a Trillion Dollars (Profile Books, 2022).

[5] Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe (Baker Academic, reprint 2013).

 

 Helpful resources

  1. Jesus Died to Save the Planet by Paul Kunert. This essay will be published in June 2024 in partnership with LICC. It them moves on to consider the theological basis for the truth that the gospel is good news for all creation, because Jesus’ death and resurrection precipitated a seismic shift, beginning the restoration of all things – including the planet. He then moves on to consider the missional and pastoral applications of this truth, inspiring readers to see how Jesus’ resurrection has ushered in a new reality. How, with him, we can begin to live now as we will when the Earth has been perfected again, choosing to make kingdom-like decisions in our everyday lives that will conserve and care for the natural world and bring peace, love, and justice to our local neighbours and global community. 
     
  2. Ruth Valerio, L is for Lifestyle (IVP, 2019). Easily digested, and packed full of fresh, creative and practical ideas, warm encouragement and constant inspiration to journey humbly and simply on the earth.
  3. A Rocha, Eco Church programme, which has loads of resources to help churches and communities foster the flourishing of the earth. This is most helpfully used as a whole church community.
  4. Hope for the Future has great resources to help you engage your local council and member of Parliament.
  5. And for those inspired to take more direct action together with others, Christian Climate Action is a community supporting each other to take meaningful action in the face of climate breakdown.
  6. Christopher J. Wright, The Great Story and the Great Commission (Baker Academic, 2023). This is gold for those wanting to set everyday earthkeeping in a wider understanding of God’s mission in the world.  

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