I’ve never been to a Mennonite church conference before. I’m a little late. I find my name tag on the table, hook it onto the lanyard provided. I’m welcomed by Janette, the administrator I talked to about childcare before registering. She tells me to sit anywhere. I choose a table near the back.
I’ve come to hear the speaker, Rick Faw, the education director for A Rocha, a Christian conservation organization. He is set to speak about the “theological and missional implications of creation care.” My family and I spent a day at A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre in Surrey, B.C., in the fall. It’s a beautiful place and the staff are committed to community building around ecological sustainability.
But really, I’m curious what he will tell the church about, well, environmentalism.
As he begins his session, it quickly becomes evident that his talk will be an introduction for people new to the idea of earth-care as a spiritual practice or call from God. He recites Bible verses supporting “the earth-keeping dimension of discipleship” and invites us to “join God in his work of redeeming all things” by beginning to think of ways to care for nature. Two of his suggestions are to “cultivate wonder and gratitude” and to “get to know your place.”
Sigh. I realize I’m not going to hear what I want to hear. He doesn’t mention any alarming statistics and only vaguely alludes to the effects of climate change. This isn’t to say he doesn’t know about them or believe them. I’m sure he does. But it seems he’s decided that to motivate people to act, you’ve got to encourage them, present the glass as half full, ready to be topped up. Give a comforting picture: wonder, gratitude, caring for the earth, beauty.
Sure. But I don’t think you can start there, and I particularly don’t think the church can start there. Before redemptive change happens, isn’t there first woe, lament and repentance?
What I long to hear someone say to the church is that the earth is dying. This land we live on and take from, over and over and over, is dying a lamentable death. Living beings—animals, birds, trees and flowers, sea-swimmers and plants—those we claim to be stewards of, are dying because of our over-consumption and dominion. Woe to us.
I guess I want to hear a prophet. I want to see her wring her hands and shout at the top of her lungs from the back of the sanctuary . . . or church basement.
Thankfully, the Mennonite church is open to hosting such a voice, albeit on paper. Last year, Herald Press released Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice and Life Together. The book is a collection of settler and indigenous voices that lament the effects of colonialism and “sound . . . a common warning: the controlling [settler-colonial] culture is violently sick, devastating peoples and lands. The need is urgent: repent, resist, do something.”
In these pages I’ve encountered prophetic voices that inspire me. In the introduction, the book’s editor, Steve Heinrichs, envisions a Cree woman, a buffalo and young Salmon boy disrupting his church service, breaking into the back of the sanctuary and running to the front. The woman says, “Listen . . . my cousins! We can’t bear it any longer! . . . Don’t you feel the catastrophe that’s coming, that’s here, that’s been for far too long? Shattered peoples all around; shattered lands right below. Manitou Ahbee, this place where Spirit sits, is weeping a death cry because of this civilization’s culture-fracking ways.”
I appreciate Rick Faw’s talk. He works for conservation in hope that the earth will be renewed, inviting others to join him. But for inspiration and motivation, my ear is tuned to voices of lamenting prophets inside and outside the Mennonite church, even if, for now, they linger on the page.
Katie Doke Sawatzky (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Vancouver.
For more on the Rick Faw and A Rocha, see: