Wednesday, July 09, 2008

the sun shall set...

Sand spreads my toes with each step and pushes into my high arches. I stop to drop my sandals and zip my jacket to the collar’s top on my way to the water. As the sun sets I feel like I am loosing it, never to see it again, and all my senses come alive as to remember always. My skin tightens and the hairs on my arm stand up in the brisk south Atlantic wind; my hair is a mess. I can taste wild sea and hear its rabid surf, growing louder with each step. The beach smells of sandbox, littered with pet droppings and trash. A splash of water shoots an electric pulse through my body. I am cold.

The entire group of us gathers on a rock for a picture, a last chance to document our time in this land of apartheid. The setting sun burns like wildfire into the mountains behind us, and we say our bittersweet farewell to South Africa. I feel closer to the sun here, for some reason, and I am sad to see it go. We huddle, snap a few shots, then wander the shore for a while. The sun falls rapidly below the horizon, and for a little while it is like the fading light stalls in a cold blue-gray. For a short time this evening glow lingers, and I negotiate the sharp rocks with my bare feet. We take some more pictures here and there, and eventually the last color fails and the stars take their rightful place above us. I have never seen these constellations in my entire life.

A sunset occurs every day, this final breathe of light and life after the sun goes down is something I can see any evening the clouds allow, but this sunset is perhaps the most memorable of my entire life. It hurt in my heart to watch the sun fade because this place was special, it was a hotbed of life, beauty, suffering, and the frail condition of humanity. I feared I would never see the sun set on this horizon again, I still may never, and it moved me.

You hear a lot about the environment these days. There is the threat of oil wells in the north Alaskan wildlife refuge, rising sea water, and polar bears damned to fall into the Arctic Sea. It is sheik to care about Mother Earth, and as the world goes “Green”, mainstream pop-culture has devoted tremendous amounts of time, money, and carbon to concerts from self-righteous musicians to TV networks for our billions of un-recyclable television sets. The evidence all points to an of era of people who love the environment because they were told too, like neo-nature Nazi’s marching to Al Gore’s drum.

There is one piece of pop-culture that makes me grin from ear to ear every time I see it. Discovery has been running this commercial where a number of their personalities sing this song - “I love the whole world, it’s such a brilliant place”. The World is Just Awesome, it says in the end, and every time I stop and think, “Yeah, it is!” I love this planet, and am overwhelmed by its scope and creativity. I’ve been fortunate to travel to some of the most extraordinary places in the world, and it has made an advocate out of me. I pick up trash when I hike, argue about environmental issues with friends, and have been jokingly called a tree-hugger on many occasions, even though I am nowhere near the the woodsman people seem to think I am. Some of the greatest spiritual revelations of my entire life have happened in the less-touched parts of creation, and I am grateful for these things.

But it doesn’t take long to be reminded of how not awesome the world can be. There are are the obvious human issues of poverty and disease, war, terrorism, and grave abuses of human rights. The Earth itself is groaning under the feet of mankind. Think of all the rivers you wouldn’t be caught dead in, landfills full of our excess, and the fact that extinction rates among wildlife is at an all-time high. Whether it’s because of carbon emissions or the ambiguous “warming trend” critics of global warming refer to, the Earth is getting warmer. Ice caps will melt, flooding the costal cities where billions of people live. Deserts will expand, bringing famine, poverty, war-lording, and even graver human rights violations the world over. We are in a state of emergency, and governments and people buzz with ideas and solutions.

For all the spiritual experiences I have had in creation, I consider what is the Christian stake in all this environmental stuff. I’ve heard it both ways, those who think it is Biblical to protect the environment, and those who don’t. I am angered by the believers who say it is pointless to protect the planet because it is all going to be destroyed anyway. It is an easy step as Christians from debunking environmental initiatives to looking at the world with our “hell in a hand-basket” style of judgement. Such believers will inevitably retreat into their own sheltered world out of fear, only for it to be destroyed as well. This simply does not work. After all, Paul writes in Romans, “From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made.” God’s essence is seen since the beginning of creation, before man was ever made. Not only are we made in God’s image, but the Earth itself carries secrets of God’s divinity. The secular world gets it, even though they do not know it, and all the while we poke fun.

So what does this mean for us Christians? A guy spoke at my church Sunday about just this, and in short, he pleaded the case that God’s creation is a tremendous tool sharing Christ to non-believers. God’s glory is so clearly displayed through the intricacies of creation and speaks volumes to the receptive heart. An environmental initiative is a means of pointing people towards God. It is not the only way to do this, but a valuable and inescapably present asset never the less. We would never take a portrait of Jesus off a wall in our church and walk on it, and while Christ is Lord over creation, we should not flippantly march all over the planet with careless dominion, but rather with faithful stewardship. This is an act of worship.

On that night in Noordhoek, South Africa, God spoke his peace to me. “I’m right here,” He was saying. “This is of me, I am in this. I know what I’m doing.” My perch on that tiny rock was a window to the spiritual world present the whole earth over. Spiritually, we are children of a dawn, the fresh and renewing promise of Christ’s redemption from sin. I cannot, however, help but see this sunset as a metaphor for the natural world. Man’s ambition has brought the sunset, and as the light fades on this physical earth, I wonder if we are now in the blue-gray evening glow of natural life. God will restore the Earth one day, correcting all the damage we have done, but until that day comes, we must be faithful to conserve this incredible gift, broken it may be.