Aug 1 2012

Nature “Con-Servancy”

Several years ago, when I first became interested in exploring the connection between environmental concerns and Christianity, I discovered the writings of Calvin DeWitt.  DeWitt is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-founder of the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Director emeritus of the Au Sable Institute. As both a scientist and a strong Christian Calvin used his credentials to become a leading advocate for what we now typically call “Creation Care.”  I learned much from his early books and would have to cite him as a major influence in leading me to where I am today.  A few days ago Rob Sheppard sent me DeWitt’s newest work, Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation.  I’ve read about half of the book thus far and would certainly recommend it to you.

Last night I read the fifth chapter in the book, “Singing From Two Books.”  In this section Calvin describes his “four principles” that reflect “the purpose of the Author of both books [the Bible and Creation].”  One of these he identifies as the “Con-Servancy Principle.”  At the heart of this principle is the thought of “never taking from Creation without returning service of our own.” DeWitt hyphenates the word ‘conservancy” to draw attention to its root meaning—con + serve means “to serve with.”  He goes on to describe how God’s original plan was for Creation to serve humans and for humans to serve Creation.

DeWitt writes: “We already know from experience with the ‘beautiful book’ of creation that this garden serves us.  It serves us with good food, beauty, herbs, fiber, medicine, pleasant microclimates, continual soil-making, nutrient processing, and seed production.  The garden and the larger biosphere provide what ecologists call ‘ecosystem services’ such as water purification by evaporation and percolation, moderation of flood peaks and drought flows by river-system wetlands, development of soils from the weathering of rocks, and moderation of local climates by nearby bodies of water.”  These are things that most people rarely think about.  We have a tendency to forget that God’s Creation serves us and serves us well.

DeWitt goes on to remind his readers that there is a strong call in the Scriptures for us to serve the Creation.  He notes that in the Genesis account of Creation, “The garden’s service to us is implicit; service from us to the garden is explicit.”  Focusing on Genesis 2:15, he adds, “Like Adam and Adam’s descendents, we are expected to return the service of the garden with service of our own.  This is a reciprocal service, a ‘service with’—in other words, a con-service, a con-servancy, a con-servation.  This reciprocal service defines an engaging relationship between garden and gardener, between biosphere and its safeguarding stewards.”

At the end of this particular section DeWitt sums things up by saying, “Our love of our Creator God, God’s love of the creation, and our imaging this love of God—all join together to commission us as con-servers of creation.  As con-servers, we follow the example of the final Adam—Jesus Christ.”  To all of this I say “Amen!”  This is, indeed, the way it is meant to be.  I appreciate DeWitt’s emphasis on “con-servancy.”  Somehow, someway, we have all got to learn that just as much as Creation exists to serve us, we exist to serve Creation.  At this point it would appear that Creation is doing a far better job of fulfilling its purpose than we are.  Surely we can do better.

–Chuck

(I took the image of the lavendar field in Washington State; the mountain scenic at Acadia National Park, and the desert scene at Mojave National Preserve.)