Earth Day Won’t Save Us
by Allison Backous
When I was little, I had a strange obsession with the environment. I collected animal stickers, watched endless documentaries on the Discovery Channel and stayed up late at night worrying about the rain forest. It was a strange concern, one that made my parents and schoolteachers call me “mature for my years.”
But my concern, as I see it now, was the development of guilt, the anxiety that I continue to carry: How could I learn about oil spills and endangered species at school and not do anything? How could I be so helpless? I even spent a whole Earth Day cleaning up the field behind my backyard, ripping buried plastic bags from the dirt, my back and hands aching from the unending task. And at the end of the day, I looked over the field and thought, “I did a good job. I did something.”
If I were to return to that field, I know that the cleaning I did years ago would be for nothing – bags and trash would be everywhere. And to be honest, I wouldn’t care that much. The environment feels huge to me, a problem that is too big for my small attempts to go green – my biodegradable laundry detergent cannot face the BP oil spill.
My can-do attitude has lapsed into apathy, and as Earth Day cycles itself into the church calendar, I’m left thinking about Christ, the church, my response to the earth, to creation.
I’m left thinking about Christ because, this year, Good Friday and Earth Day fall on the same day. I do not want to launch myself into some feel-good spirituality, wondering how I can renew my earlier commitment to the earth on a day of repentance and remembrance. I do not want to slide into the language of Earth Day’s organizers, who tell me to “discover energy” within myself – fight climate change, rally the troops, pick up trash.
I picked up trash as a child because the enormity of sin terrified me. Here was a brokenness that I didn’t understand, a field that no amount of back-breaking work could clean. A heart that no amount of my own effort could make whole…
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