I had never heard of Henderson Island, an uninhabited paradise in the South Pacific, until this week when news broke that it is buried under 38 million pieces of plastic waste. That equates to 18 tonnes of bottle tops, cosmetics jars and six-pack rings, with a further 13,000 items washing up every day and adding to the mound covering the atoll.
I found out about this disaster through a tweet from the Guardian newspaper, and when I clicked through to the full article, the scale of this environmental tragedy genuinely shocked me.
It’s moments like this that have a capacity to shake us out of our complacency. The honest truth is that the devastating damage Henderson Island is currently facing is just a tiny example of the ecological disaster humanity has wrought on this planet, and most of the time I ignore it. I live as if it isn’t happening.
And that fact has been playing on my mind ever since.
For me as a Christian, what makes this even worse is much of the ecological mess we face today is rooted in western 19th Century Christian theology, specifically the misinterpretation of the Genesis 1:28 command to dominate the earth.
That people who claim to be the ambassadors of God’s Kingdom were first in the queue to exploit and irrevocably damage His good creation is difficult to stomach. As Brian McLaren so eloquently pus it “…industrial-era Christians have used toxic, industrial-strength beliefs to legitimise the plundering of the earth, with concern for future generations of humans, much less our fellow creatures.”
Part of being a Christian is being humble enough to recognise and acknowlegde when we’ve done things that hurt others, both individually, and collectively as the church. Our part in creating the current environmental crisis is surely worthy of such a response.
But the Christian faith is about more than owning up when we have done wrong. In Jesus teaching and example we see that life in the Kingdom of God is rooted in loving, generous, kind, life-affirming, altruistic, sacrificial service of others!
We can express this Kingdom living in how we treat the environment around us, which in turn affects how we love our neighbour. Evangelical pastor John Piper expressed this far more eloquently than I could; “I think the best argument for environmental concern is love for people. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. He put us here to enjoy it. So, if we mess it up we are hurting people.”
So whether it’s choosing to recycle, picking up rubbish when we walk past it on the beach, swapping energy supplier to a green provider like Ecotricity or walking a bit more instead of driving, or writing to your local M.P. to lobby for progressive legislative change, your actions, no matter how small you think they are, make a positive difference. They enhance the life of others rather than injuring them and hurting our home.
Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It starts small, but then grows into something much larger and more significant than you would expect, given what you had at the beginning. This is how our small environmental choices, when combined with the actions of others, begin to have an impact on the crisis we are facing.
According to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in our midst (Luke 17:21) and that we as his followers are part of it. We can partner with God in the restoration of our planet! What an awesome thought!