Jul 29 2012

The Value of Wilderness

This morning Terry Tempest Williams, one of my favorite writers, shared a link on Facebook to a delightful article in today’s New York Times.  The article is called “Blissfully Lost in the Woods” and was written by Nicholas D. Kristof.  In it Kristof tells the story of a recent two hundred mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail he took with his fourteen year old daughter.

After detailing some of the exciting events of their adventure, Kristof says “This trip, even more than most backpacking slogs, was a reminder that we humans are mere bricks in a vast natural cathedral. As we tumbled in snow pits, as rain fell on us, we mused that we’re not landlords of our planet, or even its prime tenants. We’re just guests.  In short, the wilderness humbled us, and that’s why it is indispensable.”

Kristof makes a number of valid points here.  He is right in affirming that we humans are just guests on this planet.  For centuries Christians have been making the same claim by affirming that this earth is not our home, that we are simply pilgrims “passing through.”  Pausing to realize this helps us keep things in perspective.  It also serves as a reminder that we ought to be good houseguests during our time here on earth.

Kristof is also right about how nature or wilderness has a way of humbling us.  I’ve experienced this many times.  I have felt very small in the presence of giant mountains.  I have been reminded of my mortality by nature’s powerful forces quite often.  I have also been forced in wilderness settings to acknowledge my limitations and shortcomings.  All of this is good.  God knows most of us could use more humility in our lives.  In fact, I cannot help but think that the beauty, grandeur, vastness and complexity of nature are all part of God’s plan to help us stay humble.  This makes wilderness “indispensable” indeed!

Kristof goes on to say, “Perhaps wilderness is an antidote to our postindustrial self-absorption. It’s a place to be deflated, humbled and awed all at once. It’s a window into a world larger than ourselves, one that doesn’t respond to a remote. It’s an Olympiad for all of us.”  He bemoans the fact that fewer and fewer people are being exposed to wilderness and suggests that this must change if we have any hope of preserving wilderness.  He writes, “To guarantee wilderness in the long run, we first need to ensure a constituency for it. Environmentalists focus on preserving wilderness, because that’s the immediate priority, but they perhaps should be as energetic at getting young people to interact with it.”

Here, too, I think Kristof makes a valid point.  Those of us who love God’s Creation and recognize it to be His “other book” need to do all we can to help people connect with nature.  Doing so will be good for their body and mind alike.  Even more importantly, doing so will be good for their soul.


(I chose to illustrate today’s post with images I’ve taken in the Pacific Northwest.  The top image shows Mount Rainier, the middle one was taken on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge, and the bottom picture features Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park.)

Here’s the link to the article cited above: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/kristof-blissfully-lost-in-the-woods.html?_

Apr 25 2012

A Divine Obligation

While working on my sermon for Earth Day I learned about a man named Stuart Pimm.  He is a Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University and has won the Heineken Prize.  In addition to being a professor, Pimm is a champion of endangered species.  He has been very involved in acquiring land in Brazil to help save a species of primates called the golden lion tamarin.  Pimm was interviewed by the New York Times concerning his work and at the end of the interview was asked, for some reason, “Are you religious?”  This was his response: “I’m actually a believing Christian and Christians have an obligation to care for the planet because it was made by God and does not actually belong to us.  So we cannot simply fail to care for oceans, or forests, or creatures.  That would be to fail to fulfill our obligations to God.”

I am very thankful that there are people, like Stuart Pimm, who realize that the care of the earth and its creatures are a divine obligation.  Most Christians take seriously what they consider to be their divine obligations, whether that be praying, reading the Bible, going to church, tithing, witnessing or serving others.  Unfortunately, not enough Christians realize that Creation Care is still yet another divine obligation.  When we fail to care for Creation we let God down just as much as when we fail to do all those other things.

I don’t talk a whole lot about sin in this blog but I do believe that failure to be good stewards of God’s Creation is, indeed, a sin.   In this regard, it is no different from our failure to fulfill any or all of our other obligations to God. Still, it may have further ramifications than some of our other failures because the health of the planet affects so many others.  In fact, it affects all others.

I often tell people that the worst sin a Christian can commit is failure to obey the “greatest commandment” which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)  When we fail to care for God’s Creation there is a sense in which we fail to love God, our neighbor and ourselves.  Did not Jesus say we have a divine obligation to love all three?  Let’s make sure we do!


(I took the top image last week at Lilley Cornett Woods in southeast Kentucky.  I took the ocean scene in Hawaii and the whitetail fawn near Hazard, Kentucky.)