The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


April 18, 2008

Dig in

“Celebrate” seems to be the verb most paired with Earth Day observances. And I’m going to be doing that myself tomorrow when I take my volunteer shift at Ten Thousand Villages and help out with the store’s festivities including demonstrations by a master gardener and by an artisan skilled in coiling old newspapers into useful household objects. Events from concerts to park clean-ups are planned all over everywhere this weekend, leading up to the actual Earth Day, which is Tuesday, April 22, a work day for most of us.

But I’m thinking the real way to observe Earth Day is precisely by working, by digging in and doing the hard stuff to protect and to renew the environment—best as we can, and simply to halt further degradation.

Our May issue will be in homes soon and on-line next week, with cover stories on the environment. In writing the headline for one piece, I learned a lesson from author, H. Paul Santmire , an ELCA pastor who helped write the 1993 social statement, Caring for Creation. I’d titled his piece, “Our garden planet.”

He shot back, “No, it’s not ours, it’s God’s.”

Of course. I’d knew that, growing up singing and loving the hymn “This Is My Father’s World”...especially the lines, “I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.” Of course the language is sexist, but turning to Evangelical Lutheran Worship #824, I found that the text was written in the 19th century by Maltbie D. Babcock. Who?

A Quaker religious leader, I learned, courtesy of a quick Google search. I like this man. Here’s a quote from him included in Quaker Spirituality (Paulist Press 1984): “Jesus promised those who would follow his leadings only three things: that they should be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble.” Sounds like someone eager and willing to dig in.

If you’re ready to dig in, too, a good place to start is with our cover stories because they begin at the beginning, with the biblical grounding that gives insight and energy to make needed changes. Two of them, Larry Rasmussen and Jim Martin-Schramm, also will be offering a workshop in June in Santa Fe, N.M., “The Power to Change: Energy and How We Live.”

Earth Day, of course, didn’t just happen. It was created in 1970 from hard work by one man: Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. senator from Wisconsin who after losing his seat in 1980 became a counselor for The Wilderness Society. In 1995 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his environmental work. You can learn more about his life’s work in The Man from Clear Lake: Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004).

According to his obituary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (July 4, 2005), Nelson’s idea for Earth Day grew out of reading a magazine article about the teach-ins happening on college campuses in the late 1960s: “I suddenly said to myself, ‘Why not have a nationwide teach-in on the environment.?’ ”

Why not, indeed? Check out the earthdaynetwork for a lifetime of assignments.

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