Friday, December 3, 2010

WALKING GENTLY ON THE EARTH by Lisa Graham McMinn and Megan Anna Neff

A life dedicated to God's creation is a life dedicated to loving one's neighbor.
--Megan Anna Neff

Anyone who still thinks evangelicals are anti-environmentalists should read this book. So should evangelicals and other Christians who know that our overburdened earth needs all the help it can get - but who have no idea where to begin.

Lisa Graham McMinn is a professor of sociology, the author of several books,  and a backyard raiser of chickens. Her daughter Megan Anna Neff (no relation to me) has an M.Div. from Princeton, has lived in Africa, and works as a doula. Their new (August 2010) book, Walking Gently on the Earth, is as docile as its title - often personal, usually self-effacing, sometimes lyrical. The authors do not claim to be experts or perfect practitioners of sustainable living, but they refuse to shut their eyes to reality.

McMinn and Neff base their environmentalism on a theology of abundance. Creation is good. It is as important in God's plan as redemption. When we care for the earth, we care for one another.

By contrast, when we hurt the earth - its plants, its animals, its water and air - we hurt one another and our Creator God. And when we refuse to pay attention to what's happening all around us, we become like the bureaucrats in the Harry Potter series. The evil Lord Voldemort has returned, but
the Ministry of Magic thinks announcing the news would cast unnecessary fear into people and require a rather drastic change of focus, altering life as they were comfortably living it.
The Ministers choose to ignore the facts and attack the truth-tellers. Harry Potter knows this can't turn out well.

McMinn and Neff tell the truth, gently. Their eight chapters cover (take a deep breath) creation-care theology, factory farms, fair-trade practices, locally grown food, vegetarianism, consumerism, climate change, alternative energy sources, world hunger, overpopulation, home energy audits, and ... well, quite a bit else.

In just over 200 pages of text, of course, they can't treat any topic in depth. People already familiar with today's environmental issues won't find any new information here, though they may appreciate the authors' pervasive theological theme. On the other hand, people who aren't already environmentally oriented could be overwhelmed. Too much information! Too much to worry about!

Except that Lord Voldemort really is on the move, and hiding from him will not make him go away. The ecological crisis has already begun (see my review of Bill McKibben's Eaarth in the November issue of Christianity Today or online). As individuals, we can't do much to stop it - but together we can make a huge difference in the world. And together is the best way to read Walking Gently on the Earth.

This is a book for classrooms (though it is by no means academic and would need to be supplemented if used as a college text), or for church adult education programs, or for Christian book groups. It is not at its best when read at one sitting. If an hour is all you've got, read McMinn's excellent article in the fall/winter Conversations journal, "Food for the Soul," instead.

If possible, though, join with others to read and discuss this book one chapter at a time. Walking Gently on the Earth is a feast of information and ideas, and feasts should not be celebrated alone. Divide up the links provided at the end of each chapter and bring additional information back to the group. Brainstorm ways to begin practicing the kinds of creation care McMinn and Neff recommend. Together, celebrate God's bounty as you learn to care for the earth's needs.

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