Thoughts on the Environment and Finger-Painted Butterflies

Posted: June 21, 2009 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horangreen globe in hands

          I wish I could count for you the number of pieces of preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grade art that hangs in my office.  More of it hangs on our refrigerator at home.  More hangs on various doors and walls and mirrors around the house.  If someone were to ask what the theme was in our kitchen, I would have to say that it’s something like “finger-painted butterflies.”
          It’s amazing to me how difficult I find it to throw this stuff away.  One of my kids swipes a paintbrush across a napkin and I think about what size frame I’d need for it.  Jenna started preschool in 2005, and has been in school ever since.  Ashley has joined her, and is in school now as well.  Every day produces some kind of art.  Then they come home and play with the coloring books and markers and tracing toys and water colors that their grandparents have spoiled them with, and honestly we could fill every piece of wall in the house and some of yours too with the art that they have produced.
          It’s everywhere.  Stacks of it sit on tables, couches, and on the floors in their rooms.  It’s often in the way—why can’t I throw it out?  Why does my hand refuse to let a paper full of unintelligible scribblings fall into the trashcan?  I have to talk myself through it.  “It’ll be okay.  Go ahead, let this priceless memory fall by the wayside, even though you’ll want to hang them back up again as soon as one of them tells you that she’s getting married.”
          I’ll tell you why.  I actually know—I’m very self-aware here.  See, I love these two little girls.  They make me laugh, they make me have fun, they give me the urge to photgraph them every ten minutes.  “Hey, there’s Ashley’s first time playing in mud—better keep that!”  They’re cute and great and sometimes listen to my instructions… who would have thought that a guy could have such huge love for such little people?  I love them so much, in fact, that I even treasure the things they have made.  
          I love them so much that I even treasure the things they have made.
What’s worse is that they notice that I’ve hung their creations on my wall.  They walk in to my office, and when they see their art on my wall, I can see that it makes them feel proud.  The other day Ashley came into the office, pulled on picture off the wall, turned it around, and taped it to my window facing out so that the whole world could see.  Seeing their work displayed makes them feel so good, so they keep creating more for me, knowing that I’m going to hang it on my wall as soon as they give it to me.  My displaying their art gives them joy.
          Well let’s think for a moment about the effect it would have on Jenna and Ashley if I didn’t display their artwork.  Or even worse, what if I used it for my own purposes, neglecting to preserve or care for it.  I fold it up and stick it under a table leg to prevent the table from wobbling.  I use it as a coaster, use it to clean off the stick as I check my oil, or doodle on it with a pen while I’m on the phone.  I shudder to picture Jenna walking in to my office and finding her finger painted butterfly folded up and straightening out a table.  To love my girls is to treasure what they have created.  To love my girls is to thank them for giving me so many beautiful things to hang on my wall.
          So there’s a reflection about finger-painted butterflies.  Now on to the environment.
          I’ve never really been able to find a clear directive from God about how to treat the environment in Scripture.  Does God command us to recycle anywhere?  Does God command us not to pollute the environment anywhere?  I can’t find it. 
          You might hear someone refer to Genesis 1:26-28.  Most versions say something like this:  “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
The argument goes that these words in Hebrew that are translated “dominate” or “subdue” are not translated or understood correctly.  Instead, they should be seen to mean “steward” or “shepherd” or “care for.”  That would help in making the case for Biblical environmentalism, but it doesn’t really hold up.  The only other times these Hebrew words are used is when one nation conquers another, or when an individual is made someone’s slave.  They appear many times.  You might hear someone say that it doesn’t mean that we should “rape” the earth, but the same word translated “subdue” here is actually even used to mean exactly that in the book of Esther, chapter 7.  So arguing about the translation is not the way to find environmentalism in the Bible.  We can’t do this—we can’t go looking for our agenda in the Scriptures if we’re to study them faithfully.  So is it even in there?  
          I’ve thought for years that we should care about the environment.  My motivation was not theological, however.  I was afraid that my grandchildren would never get to see some of the beautiful things that we get to see, and on top of that, I was afraid that we’d produce so much pollution that it would kill us all.  These have been good motivators, I might add, but I never really found them in the Scriptures. 
          I’m reflecting on this after a week at the 2009 meeting of the Florida Annual Conference.  The theme this year was about Caring for Creation, highlighting our stewardship of our environment.  As I sat at my desk wondering how the environment might be an appropriate theme for Annual Confefence–something that I can’t even find in the Bible–I looked out my window at the playground, and then looked down under the window at all of the artwork that is proudly taped there, and that got me thinking.  My finger-painted butterflies got me thinking about the environment.
          Surely God’s Creation is useful for helping us live—I believe that was His intention.  Maybe some part of it could even be used to straighten out a wobbly table.  Those are surely annoying.  But if we love the One who made it, we’ll display it proudly.  And the Artist sees their work displayed proudly, and is honored, and might even make us some more to display.  Not a bad system.  Not a bad reason to care for Creation, either.


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