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Theology and Environmentalism Pt. 2

Jessup Think
Jessup Think
Theology and Environmentalism Pt. 2

Dr. Michael McGrann, chair of Jessup’s Institute of Biodiveristy and the Environment, joins Mark and Rex for part two of their series on theology and environmentalism. Dr. McGrann helps them understand how science and faith teach us the interdependence of all creation which provides a foundation to build an environmental ethic.


Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host Mark Moore and your co host Rex Gurney. And Rex today on the show, we have a scientist on the shining. On the nose with john Hess. We have Dr. Michael mcgrann. He’s the chair of the Institute for biodiversity in the environment here at Jessup and associate professor. And he’s coming on for part two of our conversation had a theologian on theologian we’re trying to kind to cover our bases. That’s right. And we’re looking at how theology influences our environmental ethic, or at least how our theology should influence our environmental ethic. I think you’re gonna like where the show head last time we were on the end of the story, this time we look at the beginning of the story and how that affects our role in being stewards and caretakers of this earth. We try to cover all the bases Jessup things.

All right, Michael. Well, thank you for being on the show. First time on the show. Yeah. And we’re excited to have you Rex. Here’s got some some questions he’s gonna pepper you with. So all right. It’s good to have a scientist on the show. This is

finally some of the notes for the

week. Oh, yeah. All these Biblical Studies theology. Get your finger to get your hands in the dirt.

Yep, I get my hands dirty. My boots dirty. Yeah, exactly. That’s

great. And this is, this is kind of our follow up. Right. So it’s part two to kind of this idea of, of how theology affects our environmental ethic. Right, you know, and kind of in last episode, we had Dr. Matt gotcha on kind of New Testament and theologian, and he’s worked with you on the environmental ethics class, and even some environmental ethics committee are in that and so we knew we wanted to have you on as a voice to kind of help us maybe see the conversation to from a different light brother from the lens of a scientist. We’re multidisciplinary heroes. Yeah, all good education. Exactly. That’s right. podcast me and by as right. And so we kind of looked at, at how theology affects our environment, I think, but we mostly looked at kind of eschatology, right, so our interpretation of the end of the story. Yeah. And in my conversation with you, I know we’ve talked a lot about then origins, right, right, how the story began. And something we we said last on the last episode, was that how you interpret the beginning of the story and how you interpret the end of the story really affects how you live out the story.

Right? I would say that, yeah, perhaps your last conversation, you’re focusing at the end of the story, but really, in our environmental ethic is weaved throughout all of Scripture, the entire story, right? Yeah, that’s starting starting at the beginning. With Genesis, and I think, I think, you know, having, or coming to terms with origins as a scientist, I think is essential to doing good science, especially as an ecologist, as an environmental scientist, as a biologist, but also as a believer in the Bible as a follower of Jesus, to come to terms with, you know, an interpretation of Genesis that frees me up as a scientist to do the science, the science that impacts decision making, and to follow the science wherever it may lead, because that’s what science does. That’s what science does. Right? Science is supposed to be an objective process. Yeah. And revisionary based form of learning and don’t give you just right, or deducted from there. Yes, yeah.

Yeah. Well, in the in the, you’ve highlighted this before, to that revisionary aspect of science, right there. Science is not, is not coming in and saying this is maybe the only way, but it’s saying hey, this is and then when things maybe get discovered more or further, oh, hey, we need to revise that a little right. You know, and,

and what I tell my students all the time in class is you never prove a hypothesis, right? You never prove something. In science. You you attempt to falsify a hypothesis. Right? Right. And, and so that’s the goal of science is there to revise that hypothesis. And when as you learn more, okay, you realize what you don’t know and that you need to keep learning more. Right. And so that’s the process of science. And I think, you know, starting with Genesis, though, you know, the way I see Genesis is as a framework, and I’m not saying that necessarily all Christians have to agree with me on interpreting Genesis this way. Yeah. But I see it as a framework. And it for describing how God are describing why God did it and who did it.

I actually spoke about that. Yeah. Today in the classroom, for this particular podcast, about different theories of origins, and the framework theory or theories was was one of them, but I wish you were in the class because none of us actually could adequately get ourselves around that one,

right? The framework framework theory? Well, basically, it’s pretty straightforward. My understanding of it, and I certainly didn’t invent it, there’s lots of scholars that have built into this idea that when you read Genesis, the way that it was written by the ancients was that it was illustrating first, who, who did it, right. And then why, why God did it. And it was to build their establish a relationship. And so and also, the this framework is kind of a poetry and kind of typical Mormon of Hebrew poetry, where you have the first there’s kind of symmetry in it, where you have the first three days you have God created, the realms, create traded, light, and darkness, created, the sky, created land. So the three realms, they’re on the first three days, right. And then on the second three days, God created and populated those rooms, and created the bodies that fill those rooms. So you have the heavenly bodies, you know, the sun, and the stars and the moon, the fill, fill the sky, and you have the birds that fill the sky or the fault. Yeah, and then you have other living creatures that dwell on the land. Right. And interestingly, you know, on day three guide kind of lumps are the authored lumps, vegetation, with with land, because the ancients kind of saw vegetation as part of the landscape, even though plants aren’t right, separate organisms. But um, all of you see the cemetery there. So you have all the rooms the first three days, and then on the second three days, God populates those rooms. And then on the seventh day, God rested. And what’s interesting about the first three days in are the first six days is that there’s a sunrise and the sunsets are the sunsets on the first six days. But then on the seventh day, the sun doesn’t set. So maybe perhaps implying that we are still in the seventh day. Yeah. And that rest? Yeah. And that rest period? Yeah.

So as soon as you kind of look at the Genesis narrative, as a scientist, what does it teach you about environmental ethics? Like what are some themes you draw out of that? That kind of help you build an environmental ethic?

So what’s really compelling to me about this interpretation is one that it kind of, you know, it sets the stage for, for a much more my view of powerful interpretation that runs throughout Scripture, the story that runs throughout all of Scripture, establishing that God desires of right relationship with all of creation, and that God has established his temple on earth, and that he was essentially building a temple

that I’ve heard that actually as another iteration of the framework theory that actually has to do with the Jewish temple.

Right? But when there’s similarities to to the temple, or it’s analogous to the temple right on the seventh day, God rested Well, what is God rest? What do we mean by resting? Is God kicking his feet up on the barking lounger and resting or? No? What? But it perhaps me is that God is dwelling? Yeah, like God rests in the temple or dwells in the rest? Yeah,

yeah. And God is with Adam and Eve, right? He is with his walk. He’s he’s kind of that indwelling of the temple. And it’s that presence. That’s right there. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, kind of highlights that relational aspect.

So yeah, that the second chapter of Genesis is more of that intimate relationship, that God is building with humankind. And, and the Eden kind of represents we’re building off the temple analogy, is that Eden represents the Holy of Holies. Where the most intimate relationship with with with God where God is directly present, God is dwelling in the Garden of Eden and desiring a relationship, an intimate relationship with humankind and with alteration to the point of Genesis is it sets the stage for all of Scripture, the whole entire story of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, of what a right relationship would should be with God with the nation and with all of of mankind. And so that sets the stage for an environmental ethic, what’s our role as believers in terms of an environmental What environmental ethic? What Why? What do we mean by ethic? Why do we care? Why do we care about the environment? Why do we care about stewarding what God has given us

an ethic, I guess would imply that there’s a right way. And our there are better ways and worse ways to go about this thing, right? Yeah.

Why don’t you kind of see how how those narratives would affect your ethic. Because what I like, kind of when I approach the origin story in, in my theology classes, we kind of talk about the other ancient Near East stories and have this town. Yeah. And so you mean, you have the Babylonian ones, that is just violence, it’s two Gods fighting each other. Right? And God’s being ripped in half and in the realms kind of coming out of that? Yeah. And if that’s your story, right, if that’s your story, as a culture, that’s going to change the way you approach or the environment, right, that it’s gonna make violence and war and kind of destruction, just a natural part of of the world. Right, that. And then the Egyptian one is, is much more sexual. And something I wouldn’t say on the show, right? Yeah. Even if we weren’t being recorded, I don’t think I would say it to you guys. Yeah. But that again, would would kind of would kind of put a lens on you as a culture of saying, Oh, this must be what the world is about. Yeah. And then yeah, you have Genesis one and two, that is so different from those. And it’s this picture. Yeah. But God have a God who’s, who’s this amazing artists, right, right is creating this world, in order to be in relationship. And then giving, it seems to be giving human beings a status within that created order to to be stewards. So it feels like to me like if you really take Genesis one and two seriously, it kind of pushes us further into an environmental ethic. And one that would be that would be built on care and intentionality, right, and that idea of stewardship, rather than just, I can I could do whatever I want to with this.

Right. And well, that’s why an interpretation like that is particularly powerful when it comes to an environmental ethic, because it defines it defines what that relationship is what that relationship is, with the intense intimacy that God desires with creation and with us, and that we have a special role in creation that we’ve been charged with stewarding and caring for creation. Again, that kind of that also comes from chapter two in Genesis. Right, when we’re talking about the Garden of Eden, right,

some people will replace the word stewardship, with dominion, and that that has other implications. Yeah. And that we don’t

use that word and other places that often.

Right, right. Right, right. Or even in all Christian circles, but right, certainly the ones, you know, in my tribe, we use Dominion language, right? And that that does affect the conversation. In in different ways.

Yeah. In different translations used a minion as of Scripture, but I mean, what do we mean by Dominion? Exactly right. I would much rather be under God’s Dominion in my life, right? I mean, God is a just fair, provident, loving, creator, right? But we have poor examples of Dominion in human societies and tyrants that rule over and oppress people, right. And so when we think of dominion, we think of ruling over and oppressing and exploiting

right creation and taking things out of context. If you know if dominion is a is a characteristic of God, and we bear the imago day, and then you can look at God and how God relates to his creation. Yeah. Which might give us some clues as to what that concept might mean for us. Unfortunately, we don’t always go there.

Yeah, but that’s a really good point. Because when you kind of look in that, especially Genesis one kind of 26 through 28, is where we get that that kind of Dominion language if you’re reading the KJV, right, or Fiona Byron, Katie 1611, right. I saw a guy once who had a trucker hat, and it said, KJV 1611. Like that is amazing hat. But when like the NFV kind of uses that idea of subdue, of subdue it, but first, I think you’re making a good point that in that passage, we also see that human beings are made in the image of God and because of that, imago dei Then they are given that, that kind of call to to rule over the fish of the sea, right, and the birds in the sky, all of those things that have just populated realms. But I think connecting it to the imago dei is really powerful. Because, yeah, it’s not just a power or Dominion or rule that we have on our own. But it’s because we are reflections of who God is. And so then we’d have to ask yourself, okay, how does God approach the environment that does change the conversation? Yeah, it really does. And, and it appears, at least in these first two chapters, that he approaches it with care and love and, and put in wonder in their plan,

yeah, and joy and satisfaction, almost like, you know, Glee at how good it is. Right. All is good. Right? Good.

Declare several times that it is good. Yeah. And, oddly enough, when you get to the humans declares us as very good, right? And so we can reflect who God is. We can reflect who God is by being loving, by being servants to one another, by by being gracious by being for forgiving by being merciful. God doesn’t exploit. Right, right. Yet, sometimes, perhaps, in certain Christian circles, you hear the word stewardship used in other contexts, right? We should exploit these resources, because they were given to us, we have the right to do that referencing this scripture, right. But if you look at the God, the example that both that Christ has said, for us, exercising Dominion also means being a servant

being mean, on the ground. I mean, this is this is fascinating. Yeah, not thought of this much before. Um, but what would it mean for humanity to be a servant to the rest of God’s creation? I don’t I don’t know how to take that. But I find that very, yeah, very attractive concept.

Yeah, well, I think what it would mean is that we’re thinking about God’s plan. We’re thinking about the whole story from Genesis to Revelation, and that God’s plan is to one day restore creation, and that we should reflect that that we are another concept assault in the light to all of creation. Yeah. And, and that means that we hold back, we hold back, or we’re a force against evil, against decay against the destruction of creation, and that we’re emulating what is to come and what a rat right relationship looks like? Yeah. And so I think that’s what service is, and I think it requires humility, I think it requires, you know, that we don’t just plow over everything, or cement over everything or pave over everything. That Okay, what are the consequences of our action with respect to the environment? As as followers of Christ? How’s this our actions, emulating what is to come of what is what is the restored earth and heaven on earth going to look like? That’s the promise in urban revelation, right. And our role as believers as followers of Christ is to emulate that, to me like that, not only in our relationships, often in Christian circles, which is great, we need to emulate that in our personal relationships with one another. But it also means all of creation, having a right relationship with all of creation, yeah, and exercising justice and fairness. And, sure, we have these resources that are available to us to use to consume for needs, but with the mindset that it’s sustainable for the future, for future generations, and also with the, you know, to make sure that we’re conserving this for the long term, not just for our immediate needs for this generation.

And that’s not seems to be where the conversation in the, you know, late 20th century now 21st century, has changed compared to kind of the ancient Ancient Near East culture, or even the first century of, of kind of the New Testament, in these kinds of agrarian societies that were very dependent on what nature provided for them. And so I try to remind students that, that in these societies, they would have been focused on caring for the earth because the earth literally provided food for them in a very real way that they were connected and connected in that sense of, they knew that it wasn’t just for that harvest season, but it needed to be for the next harvest season and the one after that. And, and and there there was this, maybe there’s a closer connection to the earth.

It’s this disconnection I think that drives. Yeah, you know, some folks like certain iterations of the anabaptist to basically, you know, live close to the land and not have this this, you know, distance between that and that that’s a more biblical way to live.

Right, right. Well, the disconnection I think, for us from the land, can could make me more callous to like, Oh, yeah, I don’t care, as long as I can, you know, can go to Taco Bell and order food. I’m good. And I don’t ever have to see how it was made. And got there never good. Yeah, no, I don’t want to see how it’s been. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten the Taco Bell since 1995. However, Taco Bell is a sponsor of the show. And we support them. Talking about sponsorship, yeah, that would change the conversation. But that, but that does seem to, obviously that affects the conversation, this disconnection. And these these stories and narratives were written into societies that just had a much closer connection. So it’s so for them, I think when they saw maybe, rollover subdue, it definitely didn’t have this. Oh, yeah. us whatever it was like, No, we have to, we have to care for this because it is actually providing us life. Right. Yeah.

And then is them and SNS says, since most of us don’t live in an agrarian society more disconnected from that. So right as as a disconnected person, which I actually am. Right, right. Yeah. What How does what should I do? I mean, how should maybe push should i do is not the right question. But what should my posture be? Right? Yeah, that posture approach, right.

But I think the first step is to realize that you actually aren’t disconnected even though you may psychologically or emotionally feel that you are okay. Right. We’re incredibly dependent on the environment around us. Yeah. I don’t know about you, but I ate today. And that food came from somewhere. I’m breathing air right now, that I’m glad is clean and not arming me, right? I drink water every day, or coffee or tea or whatever. And that water comes from somewhere, right? We are absolutely dependent on the environment around us and how we relate to the environment, whether it’s in a way that is stewarding the environment, and that as a resource that God entrusted to us. First, you know, the first step is to realize that, hey, it doesn’t belong to us, right? It’s not ours. Yeah, guess who it belongs to trusted to belong belongs to the Creator, right. And so we’re interested to steward it in a way that is an adjust way that benefits others around us, as well, and not to exploit it for our own selfish gain, perhaps. Right. And so I think that’s the first step. Okay. I’m not I’m not correcting you, Rex. But you’re correct. We’re good all the time. Our microphone is pretty brutal. Yeah. Just to realize that we, you know, we feel like we are disconnected. We’re not we’re actually not right. Yeah. But I think when we’re out there, you know, growing crops and and we are intimately connected to the land and the amount of rain that occurs or doesn’t occur, or what the soil is doing, why aren’t Why are my plants growing? not growing anymore? What happened? Well, maybe the nutrients are depleted in the soil and right, maybe we need to plant different crops, or maybe we need to let them around land rest, Oh, my gosh, what?

Money we make money, we can’t let things rest all

the land has opportunity for nutrients to the return true. So there are biblical principles that were established back 4000 years ago, because of that intimate connection with the land. Right. And, you know, I take I take my my students for several weeks, eight to 10 weeks out in the wilderness on the Pacific Crest Trail. And I read Psalm 104, which is I call and several other folks called the ecology where it’s talking about God’s provision for all of creation, how God provides it provides for all of creation, including the mountain goats in the higher x in the higher elevation, and how we read that together when we are actually in In the High Sierra, last time I read it I was on, we were on a peak. And you could look down the spine of the car and see several peaks of 12,000 foot peaks now in one direction, look down the east slope of the car and see the Owens Valley. And there was actually a Marmot that came up as we were reading about it, just like the Bible is talking about, and you see down the western slope, this incredible VISTA point. And you realize how impactful that scripture is, right? Because it was written by a shepherd, David, who was inspired by this when he was out in the wilderness himself, and directly connected to creation. Yeah, and how God speaks to His servant, while he is in creation, that intimate connection comes through God’s creation. So I think, I think I think that there is something they learned from the, from the ancient, right, because they had such an intimate relationship with creation and with their Creator. And they took for granted that that we now are disconnected. Like you mentioned, Rex, in some ways disconnected from here.

And this has implications all over the place. I mean, I was just, I was just thinking of, you know, lived in Oakland for a while, and I would take kids up to the Sierras. And like they never seen snow, they never been out of the concrete jungle. Right. And and I guess more of the point what we’re talking about, they never been out of the out of the food desert that they live in. They have to go to Taco Bell all the time, because honestly, they can’t get a Yeah, had a fresh lead. Right. Right. And there’s issues there to interconnect with this

one that may be Rex, kind of like to your question, two things that we can do. I mean, in in, in environmental ethics, we bring up a lot of things. I mean, obviously, like recycling, and just being mindful of waste. And, and I think those are all really amazing things that we can do. And not that all of them are easy, but they’re easy to at least start and implement, right and teach to your children, things like that, that. But I think maybe even even before to maybe help you even get to that step might just be reconnecting with, with the earth, right, like getting out of just urban centers. And being able to get out into nature, and to realize it because I think yeah, that that experience of being in nature is very powerful to be like, wow, this isn’t it kind of highlights the interconnectedness, which is I know, a theme that you that that you’d like to talk about, Michael, the the idea that, man, all of it’s not just us doing everyone, we are so connected to earth, like you were saying we’re dependent on breathing air right now. You have food.

That’s why we have, you know, Christian camps up in the mountains. Yeah, that’s where they’re at. Right. Right. I don’t think we take advantage of that. And I agree, I agree should be Yes, you’re right. those connections. Are there bigger connections? And, you know, a lot of times we’re aware of, yeah,

yeah, certainly the interconnect connectedness. We but also that inter dependency, perhaps, yeah, that’s a stronger I like that. Yeah. And we’re dependent on the Creator. And then we’re dependent on creation. We’re dependent on each other. And I think when I take my students it, I describe it. And this probably not been told by marketing that this is not the best phrase to recreate. But I describe it as a voluntary crisis, when you go out with me on the Pacific Crest Trail for 810 weeks, right in the wilderness. Yeah, you are volunteering for a crisis. When you’re in a crisis, and this is what my pastor always says, He always tells me that if you’re not currently in a crisis, don’t worry, you will be one soon. When you’re in a crisis, you realize that you are utterly dependent on the Creator. Right? And so and that interdependency that Yeah, you’re not alone. Operator, that. And that’s a difficult concept. I think for Americans, you know, we’re very fiercely independent. Yeah. But when you’re in that wilderness setting, disconnected from technology, from all communication, you realize you’re dependent on each other, right? on our team. And to get through this. We’re doing science out there. We’re collecting data, but also, you’re dependent on the environment, because we get our water right from various sources. When is our next water special? When we’re going through the desert section of the trail? It can be several miles like there’s one stretch where we have to carry water for 30 miles, multiple days. Oh, wow. And my students comment on how they you know, they see this they’re their Nalgene bottle full of water earlier. There. I was doing everything, not just the the jug, you know, Chuck does everything I can do. But that dependency on The environment on on the on the water that you drink on the resources from there were in that situation in that that crisis, you’re physically pushed the limit, realizes that, yeah, we are dependent on everything around us this environment and the creator for for our needs, and each other, and that we need to trust each other, and we need to help each other. And we need to be very sensitive to the changes in the environment as we’re moving along the trail. And as we’re studying the environment. And so I think that highlights that interdependence, you

know, it would be great if I know this is a utopian sort of thing, but it would be great if you know that that force crisis was not just available to all just sort of forced on them. Yeah, right. Right. Really, when I was in high school, I went to a private school that had the resources to do this. But they took our whole junior class down to Big Bend National Park and hooked us up with our bound for a whole week. And we’re just a bunch of city boys who had never done any of that kind of stuff before or anything, but at least, you know, they thought that we needed to do that. If we asked to do that, and and, you know, some things I learned, you know, um, you know, the wrong way to repel.

Yeah, that’s a good lesson to learn. Oh, goodness, me today. They really do. It’s a good lesson to learn and come back from sometimes. Glad you survived that Yeah, exactly. Like you should me it wasn’t just me, went over. Or kicked over. Oh, my God, thank you so much for being on the show. Because this has been really helpful. And yeah, and I think, because part of it, I think part of the reason for this, these two parts series was to kind of highlight not necessarily just prescribe for people what to do next, or where to go over, I think, to give them a good starting place, and at least for maybe, where we see where theology and where our interpretation of the beginning and the end of the story, we’re gonna affect the whole story. Yeah. And, and I think that, that theme of interdependence is really important, because it helps kind of bring everything in. I mean, it helps bring in that we are dependent on God, right creator, we have to, we have to reread Genesis one and two and make sure God is the star of that story. Not us, right, because it’s easy to read it or a particular theory of origins. Or Yeah, or a theory of Yeah, exactly. Yeah. The gods, the starb. were dependent on him. were dependent on each other. Right. So that’s why we love God with everything we have and love others. Yeah. And we’re all dependent and interdependent on creation. When and, and therefore as, as God’s very good creation. Yeah. We’ve been called and interested to, to be stewards of that. We’ve been entrusted with that. So thank you for that reminder. And I think that’s a good starting point for people. It’s been really good. Yeah, no,

no problem. I enjoyed enjoyed it. It’s been my pleasure to be on your show.

Great having a scientist on the show to look forward to having you back. Yeah. Once we trap you in, you’re gonna That’s right. Once you once you’ve been on once then. I enjoyed it. Well, thank you. Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have. Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes these reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessica.

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