From time to time here on MennoNerds we host guest posts from folks who don’t do blogging themselves but have interesting things to say from a Anabaptist perspective. Today, we host Lawrence Jennings. Lawrence, a native New Yorker, attends Infinity Mennonite Church of Harlem (New York, NY), and is a GreenFaith Fellow working on ways to increase inclusivity and broaden the discussion of environmental issues in all communities.
Since the spring of 2012, I have been part of a weekly men’s early-morning prayer walk in a large public housing complex in Harlem. The regularity of this experience, which takes place “rain or shine” on Thursday mornings from 6:00-7:00 a.m., is significant not only because of the relationships established in the community, but also because it is an unusual opportunity to consistently experience the rhythms of nature.
Week after week, as we meet, walk, and pray at the “same time, same place,” the weather varies, the seasons change, the time of sunrise shifts, and I am reminded anew of the magnificent intricacy of creation.I am also repeatedly reminded of the incredible complexity of caring for the multiplicity of God’s creation: people, plants, animals, air, water… So many different elements, in such varied places and circumstances, but all are interconnected and interdependent.
Thanks to my African-American/Native American heritage and the ever-present influence of the generations that came before, I have long been imbued with the sensibility expressed in the opening words of Psalms 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it.” And now, although I am a relative newcomer to the fold, I am also coming to understand the significance of these words in Anabaptist/Mennonite thought and action. Article 24 of the Mennonite Confession of Faith says it this way: “We believe that everything belongs to God, who calls us as the church to live as faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to us.”
Last week, as I walked along the chipped concrete sidewalks and a few sparse patches of grass in the Grant Houses complex, I pondered the practical implications of believing that everything belongs to God. For my ancestors, it meant respecting and caring for nature, and being open to the lessons it teaches. In my church, in the midst of a bustling city, it also means that we have a responsibility to care for and about people—whether friend or perceived foe, family or neighbor, “the least of these” or the most comfortable amongst us. Our Man Up in Harlem prayer walks take place simultaneously in four housing complexes on Thursday mornings. As we interact with each other and our neighbors, we act out of the conviction that every one is a beloved child of God.
But some of us have access to far more resources than others do. I’ve been seeing “Earth Month” promotions and “Earth Day 2014” posters recently. What does Earth Day mean —and why does it matter? — for communities where the pressing “environmental” concerns are intimately connected to poverty and violence? After all, in many neighborhoods, even without factoring in physical pollutants, a toxic environment is created by a lack of affordable housing, poor schools and hunger. Are we truly acting as “faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to us”?
I am convinced that there is an urgent need to address the damage that humans inflict on the Earth and on each other, to educate folks about climate change, and to take steps to ensure the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants for generations to come. I have come to see that Mennonites have a valuable perspective on this work, because the Anabaptist commitment to nonviolence is as relevant to how we view creation care as it is for directing our opposition to war.
We know that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to love and care for the totality of God’s creation. And we know that we have choices. We decide how to treat each other and whether or not we will consciously, conscientiously and respectfully live in creation. Behavior and actions have consequences—for interpersonal relationships, for the natural world, for our relationship with God, and with all that God created.
1 Peter 2:5 says “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…” As living stones, composed of vibrant organic matter, through obedience, we are “being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.” As we live out our faith, we are called to an understanding that the God who is “building” us has been, and is, actively at work in the world.
We know that creation is more than a backdrop for human activity—it is part of God’s redemptive activity in the world. And so are we.As a follower of Jesus, by God’s grace, I am constantly being shaped—“created”—in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27), and I am intimately connected to the rest of God’s glorious creation. Menno Simons expressed these concepts in his prayer: “Lord, send forth thy Spirit, and we will be created, and thou wilt renew the face of the earth.” May it be so.