Christian Environmental Stewardship: More Than Going Green

June 23, 2010


[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

by Kendra Langdon Juskus

“Personal happiness, joy, and fulfillment are not what we seek first of all in life. Instead we seek the kingdom of God and strive toward making God’s creation freshly refined and renewed. When we work toward this end, we discover that happiness and joy are by-products of our stewardship; fulfillment comes as a result of seeking the kingdom.” – Calvin B. DeWitt, Earth-Wise

Sunset over water and mountains

"Fulfillment comes as a result of seeking the kingdom."

My husband and I recently gained roommates for the summer: two 21-year-old women—recent college graduates—who have filled our home with funny stories and Lean Cuisine boxes and hugs and deep talks and the scent of white-tea-and-ginger perfume.

But we quickly realized, in hosting these women, that the quirks of our 90-year-old house, combined with our own quirks, create a somewhat confusing environment for newcomers. The expectations of a finicky house and its green-living owners, when announced once or twice in passing, were quickly forgotten, and it became clear that a thorough house tour was in order.

So we gathered the ladies together one night, and they followed us around the house—bleary eyed and wanting to escape from the anxieties of their hosts and into the world of Deep Conversations and Angst as recent college graduates are wont to do—going over everything from the sticky front door to the leaky water heater (yes, I know, we’re getting it replaced).

In between, we peppered them with the green mores of the house culture: almost anything can be composted or recycled because the trash can is a last resort; turn the light out when you leave a room; wash out and re-use those Ziploc bags; and, well, if it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down. That last one is optional.

I assumed they hadn’t absorbed a single thing we’d instructed on the tour, and resigned myself to sticking passive aggressive Post-it note reminders on everything. But two days later, as our one roommate, who grew up as a missionary kid in Nigeria, placed her banana peel in the kitchen compost container, she said, “You know, I’m realizing that a lot of the ‘green’ things you guys do are the same as the things my mom had us do to save money.”

“Exactly!” I cried, thrilled not only that she had remembered about the compost, but also that our quirky expectations were justified in her eyes. But I hope her understanding of stewardship doesn’t stop at a few do’s-and-don’ts and the benefit of some cash saved. Likewise, I hope that as more Christians embrace the call to creation care, that call won’t be reduced to the lowest common denominators of following the rules and staying frugal.

Keeping house
When we first bought our house, we felt nervous about possessing such a large temporal item of the sort that moth and rust destroy. We asked some older friends, who have owned their home for over two decades and have lovingly retrofitted it to be a beautiful, environmentally sustainable residence, how they humbly undertook such an unwieldy responsibility. Their response was similar to how, as God’s children, we ought to respond to our bafflingly grand role of stewardship over all of creation: “Well, we don’t consider it to be ours, really,” they explained. “We just take care of it and offer it up to be used by God as he desires.”

Within the bounds of our friends’ submission to the true Owner of the house, their home has thrived, the people they welcome into it are blessed, and the earth they live on is graciously cultivated. And while their home’s graywater reuse and passive solar heating systems save them money, and the fact that much of their house was built from salvaged and recycled materials made good use of earth’s natural resources, green and cheap are not their stewardship priorities. Instead, they value the kingdom of God and his righteousness above all (Matthew 6:33).

Christian caretaking
Living the Christian life is a complex endeavor, full of questions and re-evaluation and repentance. So it makes sense that

Tree planting

Christians are particularly suited for the caretaking of creation. (cc image courtesy alexindigo via flickr)

discerning how to live as stewards and then living as such—as more and more Christians are doing—is an equally complicated journey. What is “green living” to many must be “stewardship” to Christians, and by the difference in terms it must mean something different. Green living is too easily reduced to a set of conveniences (it’s easy being green!), cost-saving measures, or rules. The Christian life cannot be so easily simplified, and neither can Christian environmental stewardship. There are not ten simple steps to being a better steward, and no lasting, robust stewardship can be motivated by the thought of saving money.

As Christians practiced in wrestling with sin and forgiveness, so too as stewards are we prepared to tackle our own and the world’s environmental recklessness with hope and grace. As Christians accustomed to the paradoxes of a God who is three-in-one and a kingdom that is already-but-not-yet, so too as stewards are we able to balance the ambiguities of creation’s shifting—and sometimes contradictory—needs with our own lifestyles.

Hope, love, repentance, perseverance, sacrifice, and grace are all characteristics of the Christ-follower and, by extension, of those who tend and keep Christ’s world. In our homes, when these characteristics are manifested in service to God’s Spirit and the vision of his kingdom, our lives aren’t reduced to the list of rules, regulations, and cost-saving measures I bombarded my roommates with last week—although those aspects are, by necessity, present. Instead, what takes center stage in our houses of wood and brick are human lives of love, creativity, forgiveness, fulfillment.

When those same characteristics are submitted for God’s use in the stewardship of his creation, creation care is no longer a euphemism for “green living” or a list of rules and tricks for “saving the earth” at the lowest cost to ourselves. Instead, it becomes a lifestyle that flushes forth creation’s vitality and nurtures lands and communities into the abundance of the One for whom they were created.

Kendra Langdon Juskus is the managing editor for Flourish.

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