Your Grandfather’s Environmentalism

April 5, 2009


I’m always doubtful when I hear people say we need a “new theology” about anything–whether it is creation care or any other area of life. I always thought that my grandfather’s attitude toward life was basically all the environmentalism I need–thrift, humility, simplicity, reverence. These coupled with a direct connection to the land that kept him from falling for modernist ideas–like the novel idea that what we do to Creation doesn’t matter.

David Gushee has said the same thing over at Christianity Today–for him creation care is just about living decently, like his grandfather. As he says, “economic and environmental stewardship go together, hand in glove. Perhaps this rediscovery will motivate us to preserve the health of our planet.” Generally, almost anything I do that saves money is also good for the environment, when it means I’m consuming less.

Old-fashioned values like thrift and simplicity don’t accord well with shopping mall values or commercial values. Christians should be used to the idea that the world is not going to validate their worldview. But simple living has somehow become associated in the popular mind with a “hairshirt mentality” that worships deprivation for its own sake. My grandparents lived an abundant life, but they found satisfaction in being debt free, not from living beyond their means.

I’m beginning to figure out what one of my college pastors told me: you don’t own things, things own you. I never feel more enslaved than by looking in my basement, at the clutter that prevents my abundant living! Slowly I’m learning to let go of things, and to lay up treasures that can’t be corroded–time with family, ministry to neighbors, learning about God from his revelation in Scripture and in the created order (i.e. birdwatching!).

I think my grandfather would have used compact fluorescent bulbs for energy efficiency reasons. But he saved a lot more energy by going to bed when it got dark. “Ain’t no one up after nine o’clock but thieves and rogues,” he would declare. I think that practice also meant he found it a little easier than I do to rejoice at the dawn of the new day.

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