Moving Books in Moving Boxes
A Pastor’s Thoughts on Scripture and Ecology
September 17, 2022
Anthony wrote this reflection in March of 2022, amidst a move between jobs, homes, cities, and communities upon taking on the Ontario Director role.
If you’ve ever had to pack up the stuff in your office and move it out in boxes, you know it’s a weird feeling. I’ve done this kind of packing and moving twice now, and both times it’s been an exercise in reflection and hope. Conversations I’ve had with people run through my mind. I reflect on what my work might have meant to others and what it’s meant to me.I try to fit the greatest number of books in the fewest number of boxes.
I’ve been a theology professor and a pastor; both of these jobs are book-heavy, so packing up is a slow process.
Last February, I packed up the books in my pastor’s study in preparation for taking on the role of Ontario Director with A Rocha Canada. As I did so, it occurred to me that one set of books served as something like a vocational hinge. My new role would probably not require many references to academic theologians, and I would no longer need outlines for weddings or funerals. On the other hand, when I was a pastor I didn’t often turn to my favorite passages from Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold. The hinge books, I thought, would be my collection of biblical commentaries. A biblical commentary is essentially a book about a book–a book written by a scholar to help the rest of us understand the history and meaning of the ancient texts that make up the Bible. My hunch was that these books would be as relevant to my new role as they had been during my pastorate.
In the months leading up to saying goodbye to the congregation I served for almost seven years, I had given a series of sermons about the Bible and ecology. My intent was that the series would help the congregation understand how my sense of call had changed and to be honest about the key questions that were on my mind. I also wanted to explore what the Bible had to say about ecological matters—matters which I believe are among the most significant facing the human community today. I knew that scholars had been saying these kinds of things for awhile, but I wanted to know if it could be preached.
These sermons were warmly received, though every pastor knows that few comments are harder to interpret than “Thank you for your sermon.” Still, what surprised me was how readily the Bible spoke to ecological matters. Yes, there were the well-known themes of God declaring the earth to be “very good” and the Psalms reminding us that the “earth is the Lord’s.” A closer look, guided by the work of several key scholars, revealed more points of connection between the Bible and ecology. Think of the role water plays in both the Hebrew Bible and the life of Jesus. Think of the way the Gospel of John loudly proclaims that God became accessible to us in physical, material, bodily “flesh.” Or, to cut the list too short too quickly, think of the way many biblical writers describe non-human creation in animate terms: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” That’s Psalm 19 ( ESV).
Taping the last box of biblical studies books shut, I had the distinct sense that those books wouldn’t remain entombed in cardboard for long. In the Bible, there is too much that speaks to the ecological crisis unfolding around us. Too much about the value of the earth and the relationship all creatures have with their Creator. Too much about the importance of human creatures living with restraint and wisdom. And there is too much for warmhearted readers not to be energized by the many connections between the prophetic calls of the biblical writers and a world in need of new ways to imagine the “good life.’’
The contents of my office are now sitting in the basement. I think of the biblical studies volumes with gratitude. I’m thankful for the chance to encourage others to see both the Bible and the natural world with new eyes. Karl Barth is often credited with suggesting that good preaching requires the reading of both the Bible and the newspaper. The Bible helps us understand and respond to the events of our day. The news of our day too often includes the extinction of species and loss of habitat. The Bible reminds us that not a sparrow falls without God taking note.