Learning to Pay Attention

Image by Gus Ruballo on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

This summer I taught a week-long continuing education course for pastors on scripture and ecology. We examined Scripture’s many references to humans within creation, to human justice, to care for future generations. We read about the depth and breadth of the ongoing climate crisis, about consumerism, and about environmental pollution and injustice. We discussed what many congregations are doing to honor creation.

I took several of them to see the net zero energy house that my spouse and I are building. By the end of the week, most of the class members said that creation care had not been prominent in their thinking, but now they could see why it should be, and were making plans to promote a new ecological vision in their congregations.

Until my own eyes were opened thirteen years ago, living well with nature seemed like one of many nice things good people do a little bit: recycling plastic water bottles, going hiking in national parks, and maybe even turning off lights when it was convenient. I reckoned the many wondrous descriptions of nature in Scripture and hymnody as pretty poetry.

But when I realized that climate change threatens not just our lifestyle but our very existence—and the future of people who have done little to contribute to this very western problem—my perspective changed entirely. Now everything I plan, every day, passes through the filter of its potential environmental impact: every car trip, every food choice, every writing or teaching opportunity.

I look forward to the day when ecological responsibility is woven into our psyches and pervades our economic and social systems, when we have gathered the political will to reduce greenhouse gases and return the atmosphere to normal, when the crisis of melting ice caps and rising ocean temperatures has been reversed for good. But until then I paddle my little boat against the tide of destruction and invite others to join me. I am grateful that this group of pastors—some in positions to influence many other Christians—have opened their eyes as well.

September 1

  • Jeremiah 2:4-13 describes the people’s forsaking God, the “fountain of living waters,” and digging for themselves “cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
  • Sirach 10:12-18 (complementary) describes God as one who plants and plucks up nations.
  • Proverbs 25:6-7 (complementary alternate) commends humility.
  • Psalm 81:1, 10-16 expresses God’s wish to provide abundance, “the finest of the wheat … honey from the rock.”
  • Psalm 112 describes the righteous and generous as secure.
  • Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 counsels “keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.”
  • Luke 14:1, 7-14 advises humility as guests and generosity as hosts who invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.

September 8

  • Jeremiah 18:1-11, using imagery similar to the Genesis 2 creation story, compares God to a potter making vessels.
  • Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (complementary) counsels living well and generously in the land, so that blessings will come and descendants will thrive.
  • Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 brings awe toward God’s creation down to the personal level: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
  • Psalm 1 compares the upright to a tree watered by streams and yielding fruit, but the wicked to chaff blown by the wind.
  • Philemon 1:1-21 describes the slave Onesimus as a brother, upholding equality in Christ.
  • Luke 14:25-33 counsels counting the cost of discipleship, since “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

September 15

  • Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 describes creation’s destruction: the earth becomes “waste and void” (tohu vavohu, as in Gen 1:2); mountains quake; birds flee; fruitful land turns to desert; earth mourns.
  • Psalm 14 warns the foolishly greedy that though they might confound the plans of the poor, “the Lord is their refuge.”
  • Psalm 51:1-10 requests a new act of creation, saying, “Create in me a clean heart.”
  • Luke 15:1-10 compares God to a shepherd seeking one lost sheep, and to a woman searching for one lost coin.

September 22

  • Amos 8:4-7 (complementary) criticizes the dishonesty of those who cheat the poor out of food.
  • Psalm 79:1-9 confronts God with the ruin of Jerusalem, where enemies have “given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food.”
  • Psalm 113 praises a God who “raises the poor from the dust and gives the barren woman a home.”
  • Luke 16:1-13 discusses honesty and dishonesty, and concludes “you cannot serve God and wealth.”

September 29

  • Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15 portrays Jeremiah buying a field to show hope that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
  • Amos 6:1, 4-7 (complementary) predicts crisis for those who live in luxury while others live in want.
  • Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 imagines God as a mother bird who “will cover you with pinions,”under whose wings you will find refuge.
  • Psalm 146 extols the God “who made heaven and earth,” and who “executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.”
  • 1 Timothy 6:6-19 describes a holy wealth: contentment with food and clothing, refusal to be trapped by the love of money.
  • Luke 16:19-31 describes the poor reward of a self-consumed rich man.

October 6

  • Psalm 37:1-9 depicts the wicked as perishable like grass, not to be feared, nor envied.
  • Luke 17:5-10 reminds readers that faith need not be great—the size of a tiny seed, along with faithful service. 

October 13

  • Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 presents a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon, advising them to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.”
  • 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15 (complementary) describes God’s cure of the Aramean commander Naaman through washing in the Jordan River.
  • Psalm 66:1-12 claims “all the earth worships” the God who turned the sea into dry land.
  • Luke 17:11-19 comments on the grace of gratitude for God’s gifts.

October 20

  • Jeremiah 31:27-34 predicts that God will once again sow and plant the people.
  • Psalm 121 calls God the maker of heaven and earth, and protection against the elements.

October 27

  • Joel 2:23-32 teaches that rain and bountiful harvest come from God.
  • Sirach 35:12-17 (complementary) characterizes God as an impartial judge who hears the prayers of widows and orphans.
  • Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 (complementary alternative) depicts God as bringing rain for the harvest.
  • Psalm 65, a beautiful description of God’s provision, presents God as the “hope of all the ends of the earth,” who establishes mountains, waters the earth, and provides grain, causing pastures to overflow with flocks and vegetation.
  • Psalm 84:1-7 describes God’s temple, where even small birds find homes.
  • Luke 18:9-14 counsels humility, recognizing that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”