Caring For Our Common Ground

July 8, 2010

Hey folks! Check out my latest guest blog for the Washington Post, a collaboration with Chelsea Guenther about our experience at Common Grounds (which I blogged about here and here):

Shared faith in the earth

Today’s guest bloggers are Chelsea Guenther and Chris Stedman. Chelsea is a graduate of Agnes Scott College who will be coordinating the multifaith living community for the Cal Aggie Christian Association at the University of California – Davis beginning this fall, and Chris is a recent graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School who blogs at NonProphet Status.

Images of black-coated birds and oil-filled waters have flooded our television and computer screens for two months now, and it feels as if there is no end in sight. For the first time in years, we are being bombarded daily with visceral reminders of what can happen when we take our planet for granted. For anyone concerned with ecological ethics, it is not a pretty sight.

One of us is a committed Christian, the other a Secular Humanist. We couldn’t disagree more on the idea of God or what will happen to us when our bodies expire. There is, however, one very large belief we share: The earth is our home.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of the ongoing environmental crisis in the Gulf, a religiously diverse group of students and professionals from across the United States came together at Common Ground, a retreat on interfaith engagement and environmental responsibility. Hosted by the chaplaincy at Yale University, Hebrew College, and Andover-Newton Theological School, we united to discuss the role moral communities can play in advancing environmental efforts. In the beautiful woods of Incarnation Center in Ivoryton, CT, the fresh air, bright sun and pounding rain reminded us of the world we share in all of its natural, fragile splendor.

In our largely urban and industrial culture, we have undergone something of a collective memory loss. Though it should be obvious, it can be easy to forget about the concrete things we all have in common. We share physical space in our communities. We breathe the same air, drink water from the same tap and eat food from the same land. In short, our planet is mutual.

All we have and all that we are depend on the health of this place. Whether we got here by careful creation by a loving God or sheer luck amidst randomness, we have nowhere else that we can live. Be it a magnificent gift or a profound occurrence of chance, this planet is ours to repair or destroy. We may disagree on whether or not there is an afterlife, but we know that life in the here and now depends on our taking action together. With a Gulf full of oil and toxic chemical dispersants already impacting the livelihood of Gulf area residents, it couldn’t be clearer that taking care of ourselves means taking care of the Earth.

This is not a call to save our planet from the mess we have made although, as we know only too well, that is necessary. This is a call to open our eyes and look around – to touch the earth and know that we are a part of it because it sustains us. And it is a call to connect with one another. This relationship is reciprocal: The more we connect to the Earth, the more we will connect to one another. The same is true in reverse.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.

3 Responses to “Caring For Our Common Ground”

  1. As a person who doesn’t believe in any sort of life after death, I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the concept of a (say, Christian) afterlife. But I’m also unsure just how believing in an afterlife affects one’s beliefs around taking care of one’s earthly home. If I believed in an afterlife, especially one that is potentially heavenly in various ways, I’m not sure why I would care as much about this life, and about this home, as I do currently, where, for materialist atheists, there is the strong motivation that this is all any humans are ever going to have.

    I don’t mean to say in some simple way that Christians can’t love the earth–just that it’s hard for me to wrap my head around exactly why they would, given the promise of everlasting life somewhere else, once this life is finished!

  2. Toby said


    A very rough analogy.

    Suppose you really, really love your parents. Someday you’d like to move back home, where they live. It’s a great place to be, in large part because you really love to be around them.

    But that’s not where you are right now. Right now you’re off on your own. And as it happens you’re in this place that your parents gave to you as a gift. It’s not as great as it is back home. It’s beautiful in many ways, but at the same time the building has lots of problems, the neighbours can be difficult sometimes, etc. But despite all its problems, you are deeply motivated to take care of your current place, to the best of your ability. Why? Because it is a gift from your parents, and you love them deeply. And you’ll be damned if you let their gift crumble to the ground.

    To spell it out: the love of God can underly both the hope for the afterlife, and the care for the environment. You have no reason to value the afterlife unless you love God. And if you love God, then you will care for God’s creation.

    And in addition to caring for the environment for its own sake, there is also the fact that environmental degradation causes an awful lot of suffering for an awful lot of people. (I suppose you might have further doubts as to why a Christian who believes in the afterlife would care about any of that, but the answer is similar.)

  3. Thanks for the analogy, Toby. I don’t doubt there are many folks who believe in God who are concerned about the planet–I hope that’s clear. I just have a hard time understanding. Your analogy is helpful. I still wonder, though–I mean, heaven is FOREVER. It seems like whatever harm is done here on earth for such a short span of time, and even whatever suffering, in the face of eternal happiness, is worth any work at all. And, yeah, the whole “gift” analogy doesn’t quite work for me–a generous god would have just given us all heaven (IMHO).

    Still, your analogy gives me a way into one way of thinking about it all, so I thank you again!

    ps: Did you mean this as literally damned? “And you’ll be damned if you let their gift crumble to the ground.”

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