We Forget the Earth

by Emma Vande Brake

When walking in my neighborhood, I sometimes try to envision what it would look like if there were no houses, back when it was predominantly forested. Before colonists ever settled on the North Shore, the land was inhabited by indigenous people who had a vastly different relationship with the land than we do today. The numerous Native American tribes all shared a similar philosophy: they thought of the world as a gift. It was this sentiment that cultivated a deep thankfulness, respect, and love towards creation. Land could not be bought or sold because it was not a commodity. It was their understanding that everything was connected, which led them to believe they were a part of the land. For this reason, Native Americans used the land for resources sparingly; they took only what was needed.

I think that we have a lot to learn from the way Native Americans lived. As a Christian, I get frustrated when people use the Bible to justify environmental degradation. Some say that we do not need to care about environmental issues, because God will make all things new one day. However, this is a faulty perspective. God works in and through people to accomplish redemption. What we do on Earth matters.

I recently read a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an indigenous woman from the Potawatomi tribe, called ​Braiding Sweetgrass​. ​Kimmerer’s cultural experiences and training as a botanist shaped her perception of the natural world. In the chapter “The Gift of Strawberries”, she writes:

“Gifts from the Earth, or from each other, establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate.”

Here, she describes our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. Long ago, when people were more closely tied to the land, this was how they interacted with creation. When Native Americans shot a bird out of the sky for food, they understood that a life was being given for their own. Those who inhabited Massachusetts before us lived with this attitude towards the earth.

Today, we don’t receive our food with the same kind of gratitude because we are disconnected from the earth. Our culture makes us more inclined to exploit land for its resources. In response to this reality, Christians must be stewards of God’s creation. Instead of viewing human flourishing as independent of the rest of creation, we must realize that everything is connected and interdependent. In the words of Chief Seattle, a leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, “Humans have not woven the web of life; we are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” We should care for the earth because of its inherent value—by doing so, we will benefit as well.

I believe that the threat of climate change has become increasingly important for Christians to recognize and respond to. A government assessment from the City of Boston determined that “three major climate hazards will increasingly impact Boston: extreme heat, stormwater flooding, and coastal and riverine flooding.” If we hope to care for our neighbors, our response should be to come alongside the most vulnerable and attend to their needs. Climate change is a threat to the lives of people all over the world—and people of color are impacted disproportionately. Regulations and business decisions are heavily influenced by intersectionality.

How can we return to a mindset where the world is thought of as a gift? We should begin by asking this question and from there, take concrete action to protect what is being decimated. I urge you to research the political candidates who are running for election this November and discover where they stand. Vote with the climate in mind! Talk to friends and family about creation care. We cannot allow climate injustice to continue.