By Katherine Smith
Last week, as I was driving along the country lane to my home, a bald eagle suddenly filled the sky in front of me! I was so startled, that I stopped my car to gaze at the magnificent creature. I had never seen a bald eagle in nature before, only in zoos. I had no idea how large and majestic they truly are.
As I drove off and left the eagle to soar above the trees, I continued to be amazed at the bird’s beauty. Then I wondered why I never knew they were so large. Then I realized that birds in captivity never soar. Then I was sad. As important as zoos are to us, and as concerned as many zoos are to create a natural landscape for their animals, they leave us with a limited impression of a creature’s true life or space in this world. We are missing something that cannot be recreated.
Every night in the news, we hear of crisis after crisis. There are droughts, floods and fires—not to mention whole cities without drinking water; there is the cost of food and rent, increased crime and too few teachers in our schools. It is exhausting. It is truly overwhelming. In the midst of these events, a recurring theme keeps appearing – climate change. I cringe even as I write the words because I know how many people are already tired of hearing about it. Reporters, scientists and others like me are doing their best to help us understand how all these events are really connected. But like the eagle in the zoo, the true extent of climate change cannot be recreated.
Since the climate crisis is too large, we should just stop thinking about it, right? We can’t do anything about it anyway. That’s certainly one response, and one that many have chosen. It’s easier and less painful. As Christians, however, Jesus didn’t teach us to take the easy path. We are to keep loving, keep caring and keep serving, relying on God’s Spirit-given strength. The reality is that there will be more and more events that will be made worse by the climate crisis. There will be more suffering for all people and for this beautiful world that God declared was “very good.” There will be more news that we want to turn off or ignore because it is too much. How do we cope?
October 4 is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. Now I realize that Baptists do not usually think much about “saints” unless they are the saints who sit on the front pew of church week-after-week, supporting the pastor and the work of the church – usually behind the scenes! But Saint Francis has special meaning for those of us who consider caring for creation our main spiritual calling. His belief in the value of the “least of these” – especially those in poverty and God’s entire created world – inspires all of us to follow his example. We have made his prayer for peace into a song (Make Me a Channel of Your Peace) and his Canticle of All Creatures is recited frequently in Christian services around the world.
One of his comments is one that I depend on whenever asked, “What can I do? How can I help with such overwhelming issues?” To this question, Francis is noted as saying: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Seems like a good place to start to me!
Rev. Katherine Smith is co-founder and executive director of Baptist Creation Care Initiative, member of the CBF Governing Board and leader of the CBF Environmental Stewardship Network.