Flourish, Fall 2011
Five Questions For: Chris Elisara
Chris Elisara is an energetic entrepreneur in the world of creation care education. He started the Creation Care Study Program in 1996 and still directs this environmental study abroad program that gives 60-70 students a year unparalleled academic and spiritual growth in the natural ecosystems of Belize and Elisara’s native New Zealand. Last year, with film producer John Paget and writer and educator Drew Ward, he began a Web series called American Makeover, which explores the problems suburban sprawl poses to ecosystems, health, and community, and some of the solutions.
Now Chris is helping to advance a new, even broader initiative, the Center for Environmental Leadership, which is “devoted to two things; helping individuals, institutions, and communities act on their convictions to care for creation, and educating the next generation of Christian environmental leaders.” You can learn more about the Center for Environmental Leadership and how it will accomplish these goals in this issue’s Where We Live column.
Chris’s convictions are evident in his personal life, as well, as you’ll see in his answers to the questions we’ve asked him here. He lives with his wife, Tricia, their two sons, and another family in intentional community in Julian, California. We hope you enjoy getting to know Chris and benefitting from his wise words and his warm sense of humor in the following interview.
1) What creation care-related scripture is most meaningful to you?
Whereas there are some compelling scripture passages that come to mind when thinking about creation care, I resist isolating just a few. I want to be careful not to play, in the words of a CCSP professor, “proof-text poker.” Rather, I believe we should develop a robust theology of creation that draws on all of Scripture from creation, fall, redemption, and consummation of God’s Kingdom on earth. When one does that it’s undeniable caring for creation is a part of God’s good intention for our lives. One book I’d suggest to help develop one’s theology of creation is Steven Bouma-Prediger’s For the Beauty of the Earth (2010). Ed. note: You can read an excerpt from For the Beauty of the Earth here.
2) What is your favorite spot in the outdoors?
It’s tough to narrow it down to just one spot! But if threatened with a wedgie to name one special place, it would have to be anywhere on a snow-capped mountain at sunset or sunrise. In my younger days I was an alpinist, and etched in my mind are breathtaking views of craggy mountains bathed in shell-pink alpenglow, spied from col camp, or while ascending a peak. This summer I went backpacking and climbing in the Sierra Nevada with my oldest son (11 years old). It was the first time sharing a mountaineering experience with him, and I get excited thinking about it. I don’t think it gets much better than sharing places you love with people you love.
3) Out of the changes you’ve made in your life to follow God’s call to creation care, what has been the most life-giving, community-enhancing, or faith- strengthening?
I would have to say choosing to commit to a place and to a community for the long haul, or to put it another way, to practice the art of placemaking. That sounds way too simple—putting down roots in one place and loving the people and place so much that you get involved in helping the community and creation flourish—but on the other hand it’s counter-cultural given today’s typical nomadic lifestyle.
My placemaking story started around 1998 when my wife and I decided to make the small town of Julian in San Diego’s coastal mountains our place to call home. Simultaneously we decided to “do life together” in an intentional community with another couple under on one roof. Thus, for the past 13 years we’ve cultivated community, radiating out from our household to our neighbors,including the land and creatures we share the neighborhood with, all the while being attentive to helping our community become a better place to live socially, culturally, spiritually, and environmentally. Specifically that means doing things big and small, ranging from being a coach for our small sporting leagues, fighting to save our only community park and now being on the park advisory board, starting a school garden, supporting the farmers market, being on the board of the local environmental preservation organization, linking our church to creation care ministries, hosting parties and celebrations for friends and neighbors, etc.
4) What is your guilty environmental indulgence?
A good steak! Steak’s not bad in and of itself, so the problem beef I’m talking about is steak produced by the status quo beef industry. For a good insight into this issue I suggest reading Norman Wirzba’s new book Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (2011). On the other hand, the best steak with all the accouterments is from grass fed, humanely treated cows. Yumm!
5) What would you recommend as a first step in starting a lifestyle of creation care?
Assuming the primary work of understanding the biblical basis for creation care, then connecting with Christian organizations like Flourish, Restoring Eden, etc., to help support one’s newfound convictions has been done, then the next step I’d recommend is take a good dose of grace and creativity. It’s not easy to live by one’s convictions to care for creation. Also, when you’re more in touch with the wounds of creation, it can be demoralizing. So the grace is for you and for others falling short as you push on pursuing God’s call to care for creation.
Creativity is for having fun coming up with, then implementing ways to solve problems associated with caring for creation. First off it takes thinking outside the box to figure out real solutions and new personal habits. In other words, real solutions require new thinking, so get creative! Secondly, getting creative is enjoyable. So have fun on the journey, noodling out solutions with your family, friends, neighbors, church, and work colleagues.
Briefly Noted: In Print and On the Screen
The following is a partial list of new or forthcoming books and movies that address issues related to environmental stewardship. We offer this list as a resource for our readers, but please be aware that we may not have read or viewed these titles, so we can’t vouch for the content. If you investigate these resources, let us know what you think! (We may be able to publish your review so that others can benefit.) For a fuller critique of current art and media, please visit the Reviews section of Flourish.
This documentary follows a group of friends as they dumpster dive in back alleys and supermarket parking lots, living off of the thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good food Americans waste every day.
Jeb Berrier, “not a radical environmentalist, but an average American,” documents his search to figure out where the “away” is that we throw 60,000 plastic bags every five minutes.
Awaken Your Senses
By Beth Booram and Brent Bill
A book about experiencing and listening to God through more than just words. Booram and Bill encourage tasting, seeing, hearing, touching, and smelling the world around us as a way to recognize the gifts of creation and communicate with the loving Creator.
The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder
By Richard Louv
This latest book from the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder examines how connecting with the natural world is good for us psychologically, physically, socially, and culturally, and suggests that getting our hands in the dirt is the most effective starting point for environmental awareness and action.
Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create
By Renee Wilkinson
The author of HipChickDigs.com fills the pages of her first book with the ins and outs of urban gardening, preserving, chicken-raising, and general old-fashioned homesteading with a contemporary twist.
“More farmers could save natural resources, time and money if they adopted conservation agriculture, which minimizes tillage, protects the soil surface, and alternates cereals with soil-enriching legumes. Those simple practices help to reduce crops’ water needs by 30 percent and the energy costs of production by up to 60 percent. In trials in southern Africa, they increased maize yields six-fold.”
- Numbers from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s Save and Grow report, published in May 2011. The report approaches the challenge of necessary crop production intensification from a sustainability perspective, recommending sustainable agriculture methods like agroforestry, integrated pet management, precision irrigation, and little or no tillage from research on the higher, healthier yields such methods have produced in farming systems globally.
Source: Save and Grow
- The Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College invites all with a passion for creation care to its third annual “Where Earth and People Meet Conference” on Oct. 1-3 at Merry Lea, near Wolf Lake, Ind. At this faith-based gathering, participants will have the opportunity to experience the lessons of hope and revitalization that the earth offers. The weekend includes hands-on learning outdoors, discussion and worship. The 2004 theme is “Regenerative Communities” and will focus on the intricate relationships that sustain a forest.
Renewal will hold its annual summit from October 20-23 at Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y.:
- What is the Renewal Summit? The Renewal Summit is a gathering of students who are eager to be creation care leaders on their campuses. Keynote speakers, panel discussions, workshops, student presentations, and small group reflection time give students the opportunity to learn about environmental issues, develop skills for campus organizing, and connect and share with others.
- When is the Renewal Summit? The Summit begins at 7:00pm on Thursday October 20th and ends at 10:30am on Sunday October 23rd.
- Where is the Renewal Summit? The Renewal Summit is hosted by Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y., about 1.5 hours away from Buffalo and Rochester. Free shuttle service will be provided to and from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Please visit renewingcreation.org for transportation details.
- Registration: Register online by September 15th at renewingcreation.org/summit/registration. The registration fee is $50, which covers food and lodging for the weekend as well as transportation to and from the Buffalo airport. Scholarships may be available; please contact Gretchen Peck at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
- The new Center for Environmental Leadership will host its first event, the Symposium for Sustainability Workers, from October 19-21 in Buffalo, N.Y. The symposium is for sustainability coordinators, staff, faculty, and administrators actively engaged in campus sustainability efforts at Christian colleges and universities, to provide professional development and support to this community as it is strengthened and empowered for good work. For more details, visit the Symposium for Sustainability Workers Web page.
“If you believe you’re going to be able, by technology, by political force, by whatever means, to save the planet, you may well get exhausted and disillusioned and depressed. These are genuine problems within the environmental movement.
“If, on the other hand, you do what you do because you believe it pleases the living God, who is the Creator and whose handiwork this is, your perspective is very different. I don’t think there is any guarantee we will save the planet. I don’t think the Bible gives us much reassurance about that. But I do believe it gives God tremendous pleasure when his people do what they were created to do, which is care for what he made.”
- Peter Harris, co-founder of A Rocha, in an interview conducted by Andy Crouch in the June 2011 issue of Christianity Today.