Why this Cooperative Baptist Cares about Creation

Left to right: Mark Kutolowski, Manohar (Manny) Singh Grewal, Ray Johnson,  Howard Cohen, JoRee LaFrance

Left to right: Mark Kutolowski, Manohar (Manny) Singh Grewal, Ray Johnson,  Howard Cohen, JoRee LaFrance

On August 9, 2015, I was privileged to be part of a panel of five speakers during the third annual “Our Children, Climate and Faith” Symposium, held in the village of Strafford, a wonderful small community in southeastern Vermont. The panel, whose task was to offer reflections from their own faith traditions on creation and climate change, was composed of a Benedictine Oblate, a Sikh elder, a Reconstructionist Jewish Rabbi, a Native American Crow woman, and a Cooperative Baptist (me). Following is a portion of what I said to the assembly. I’ve omitted the first few paragraphs that went into a little depth about who Cooperative Baptists are.

To be Cooperative Baptist simply means that, while affirming historic Baptist principles, we partner in renewing God’s world. That’s our tagline. It’s our brand statement. Go to our website, cbf.net, and you’ll read about us that, “We partner in renewing God’s world.” So with that said, I’d like to spend the next few minutes thinking out loud with you about my relationship with God’s world, and, since I’m a Baptist, you’ll get an idea about how one Baptist is thinking and what one Baptist is doing about creation. And, as a Baptist, I suppose that’s really all I can do anyway: speak for myself.

In January of 1987, my wife, our nearly two-year old son, and I left Florida on our way to the Philippines, where I would teach Old Testament studies and Hebrew at the Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. We decided to stop roughly midway through our journey and spend a week on the island of Oahu, a sort of second honeymoon. We arrived late at night, flying first over the big island of Hawaii where we could see below us the glowing orange trails of the lava flow from Mt. Kilauea.

A couple of days into our stay, we set out from Waikiki Beach toward Diamond Head, that impressive, picturesque volcanic mountain that juts out into the ocean. From Diamond Head, we got onto Highway 72, headed east toward Hanauma Bay, another volcanic crater; this one though blew its southern wall out and allowed the Pacific Ocean to fill the crater with deep and sparkling amethyst blue waters. Across the outer rim of the crater, a coral reef has formed over the millennia and now it runs rife with teaming teams of reef fish. We snorkeled those amazingly lively reefs.

We continued our drive eastward to Sandy Point, another magnificent vista, and we looked out at the ocean’s waves across which windsurfers skittered and leapt. Then, we rounded Makapu’u Point and before us the ocean loomed in this unspeakably beautiful deeper shade of royal blue. Two small islands burst forth from the water, like two emeralds on a king’s robe. The sky melted seamlessly into the horizon, and I looked over at my wife. The beauty, the grandeur, the magnificence of all that was before us and behind us and around us overwhelmed her and tears rolled down her cheeks. That is where my understanding of creation begins. Not with words – not even the words of Scripture – but with my wife’s tears at Makapu’u Point.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (not a Baptist) wrote, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

My own thinking about creation, my posture before creation and in creation begins in wonder. Unlike Heschel, I didn’t ask for wonder, but it found me nevertheless . . .

  •         In the yellow glacier lily fields of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park
  •         In the eastern bluebird couple that nests outside our dining room window
  •         In the first crying breath of my son and daughter
  •         In the first and second and every time since that I have seen the Great Nebula in Orion’s Belt.

I could go on, and I’m sure that you could, as well.

To me, this starting point, wonder, is critical, for wonder does not objectify the world. Wonder orients me to the world. I’m not just a spectator or an observer, but I’m a participant, a partner, a guest in the divine house.

Yes, the divine house. This world, with all of its beauties and terrors, elicits an “ah,” a sigh, a groan from my breath, a primal, yet profound, act of worship. Wonder draws forth from my being a cry of worship and so confirms for me the testimony of Scripture that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

All of creation is sacred because, as the gospel of John says of the Word, “who was God” that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Since God made all things, all things are sacred. But, since all things are not God, all things are also profane. So, for me as a Christian, the created cosmos inspires my soul to worship, but to worship the Creator.

I said earlier that I’m a guest in the divine house. That’s not a metaphor for creation anywhere in the Christian scriptures to which I can quickly put my mind, but it is a metaphor that I’d like to tease in the time that remains.

First, the first creation narrative in Genesis concludes the sixth day with the proclamation that all that God had created was very good, not in any moral or ethical sense, but more in the sense of life-affirming and life-giving. As a guest in this very good house, I have a responsibility to, well, be polite to my host, to respect the hospitality, to say “thank you” for the meals and the accommodations. I owe those who are guests with me and to those who will be guests after me to leave my room as neat, or neater, than I found it. I should make my bed and flush the toilet.

When I live in this house with that kind of respect and gratitude, I partner with God to leave the house in good order for the next generation. I’m interested in global climate change because I received something from the divine host that was very good, and I want to do all that I can to hand off a very good house to the next guest.

Second, I gather from Genesis 1, particularly in verses 22 and 28 that God loves a full house. I discover that again in the gospel of John where Jesus says that he came not just so that we could have life, but so that we could have that life in abundance. This divine house is hardwired for abundance. The oceans should team with fish; the prairies should be filled with bison and butterflies; the forests should be filled with deer and songbirds; the deserts should be filled with flowering cacti and lizards rushing from drop of water to small oases. God loves God’s house to be full, but we human occupants have been raiding the refrigerator. As a guest in the house, I should be partnering with God to increase the life and the beauty with which God seeded this planet and to make sure that the refrigerator is restocked when I leave.

Finally, as a Baptist guest in God’s house, I recognize that it’s my choice to reside here with respect and awe or with selfishness and carelessness. It’s my choice. So, why do I have an interest in living and working to leave this house in better shape for those guests who will come after me? Well, because I choose to do so, and choice is very Baptist.