A Dirty Way of Life

I’m in Kenya with a group of about 150 emerging leaders from across East and South Africa. A brilliant and diverse group of clergy, social activists, aid workers, and others have come together to discuss the relation between Christian faith and care for the environment.
I can hardly speak as I write these words. I’ve spent all today in conversations about the environment with people who live and work in slums where you literally walk on human excrement … in cities where the factories pour untreated waste into streams … in villages along lakes whose waters would qualify as untreated sewage … in slums that reek with the stench of mountains of garbage. For people here, global climate change isn’t a theory: they can see the desert spreading year by year, and they’re coping with the unrest and migration that happens when formerly fertile lands become dry and hard.
Today a man told me that he had never before thought of “the environment” as a sacred thing. He said, “Up until today, whenever I saw a bird, my only thought was whether I could eat it. But from today forward, I will look at the bird, want to know its name, and see it as one of God’s miraculous creatures.”
I was just listening to a young Congolese man who has created the first recycling center in his region. He employs 15 people to recycle garbage. He’s turning a dirty way of life into a beautiful way of life.
Meanwhile, when I’ve snuck a few minutes online, I’m reading about the spread of the oil slick in the Gulf. Our problems differ – but perhaps they’re the same: we’ve been living a dirty way of life. I’m sure the solution is the same: we need to see this world as God’s sacred work of art, and we need to come together, from a small Ugandan village to the hallways of Washington to the Gulf of Mexico, joining with God to care for the precious world, the only one we have.