By Jo Palmer
I’ve always loved nature. As a kid I founded ‘the nature team’ and proudly marched around declaring myself protector of the earth. I grew up playing in the woods, caring deeply about the environment and, as my fellow BUPers have recently discovered, talking to trees when able. I’m a regular tree hugging, environmental major with day dreams to save the planet and a fierce passion for recycling. So, deciding to spend my summer deep in the city, where parks are unkempt, streets are trash strewn, and trees to converse with are scarce, was a relatively strange decision for me.
On my initial ride into the Mount Clare neighborhood I passed rows of vacant and abandoned homes. People living next to vacant houses are denied homeowners insurance. Because nearly all the houses here are row homes, this law has created entirely vacant blocks, leaving gaping windows and broken down walls. Sometimes there is more greenery and wildlife in their hollow structures than on the streets. I’ve seen tree branches stretching from upstairs windows and leafy plants bursting from behind the boarded up doors. Still, the nature here is very different than the nature back home. There is much less of it, and what does exist is still surrounded by concrete walls and garbage.
However, one of the first Bible studies we did focused on God’s initial plan for the earth. We studied the creation story and looked at how God created light and dark before He created the sun and moon, sea and sky before He created the fish and the birds, and separated land from water before He created the animals of the earth. Essentially, He provided a space to every one of the creations He called His own. In the life and beauty that were His first creations, He also created the concept of a place of belonging, of home.
After studying the naturey version of God’s first earth, it surprised me to learn that heaven is a city. He created man and woman in His own image, but He built them a garden, not a city. It was contrary to learn that Eden is not heaven. Eden was a garden, but heaven is a city with pearly gates. Despite what my ecofriendly self would sometimes like to believe, He did not intend for us to live in the garden for eternity. In Genesis, He gives humans the commands to share the earth with His other creations, to shape it, and repurpose it as they would, giving us the power to also create. To go from a garden to a city must mean we were created to build our homes in the place God had given us. We were made to grow and to grow what is around us, to shape the earth as He shapes us.
I’m studying the environment because I don’t think we’ve made the earth reflect our God. He meant for cities and nature to belong together. Knowing that God meant for cities to exist has helped see Him in the tumult of the roughness that is evident in the trash and brokenness of Baltimore City. Knowing that God’s plan means a city filled with nature is really encouraging to know sustainability was part of His initial plan for the earth, but it’s deeper than saving trees. We can study the environment for eons, study the people it affects, the way people affect it, the interconnection of ecology and humanity. If we do all this and never study God we’ll never see what is actually there, where God is beckoning, protecting, commanding or calling. In Jeremiah God told the Israelites as He exiled them to make homes and seek peace in the land they ended up in. To protect and to nurture every place you are is God’s will. To have the tools to seek the earth’s wholeness we must study the environment. To find the earth’s wholeness and make it home, we must study God.