The following is a reprint of the letter-from-the-editor for Volume 2, Issue 21 of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine: “The Great Outdoors,” available for free for a limited time. You can subscribe to Christ and Pop Culture Magazine by becoming a member and you’ll receive a host of other benefits as well.
When God placed man and woman in His garden, He entrusted to them a stewardship over creation. The great outdoors and everything in it were theirs to tend and keep—plants, animals, bugs, rocks, water, fish, and all. Certainly this stewardship was about survival, for from the garden the man and woman would find everything they needed to sustain life. But Genesis 2:9 notes something else as well: “The Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight” (emphasis added). Not only was God’s creation functional, it was also breathtakingly beautiful. God didn’t have to do that. He could have given us functionality, plain and simple; but He also gave us beauty to enjoy.
Creation is where form and function meet. But this balance isn’t exactly where we find ourselves today. We can lean too heavily on one or the other, binding ourselves to a new sort of law that elevates or degrades creation in ways that dishonor the Creator. We can sacrifice form for function or function for form, depending on the argument or the day. Debates about fracking, deforestation, urbanization, waste management, overgrazing, and the like raise lots of questions: Are we ruining creation just by our existence here? Are we honoring God’s creation when we are unwilling to curtail our carbon footprint? Should we recycle? Should we hug a tree? Questions and debates like these make my head spin. So I search for steady ground at that intersection where form and function meet; we are stewards given freedom to build upon creation (tend it) as well as responsibility to protect it from demise (keep it).
Our tending and keeping is the stewardship mandate given to us by our Creator. But in today’s society, the structure of our living detaches us from creation—and thereby our stewardship—often in very unhealthy ways. Most of our daily work is conducted apart from nature, inside man-made, temperature-controlled buildings. Large-scale food production supplies our food, growing our grains and raising our livestock. We can go long stretches without needing to tend or keep creation in a hands-on fashion. Perhaps this has fueled the recent interest in backyard husbandry and campaigns for eating local—we are detached from the world we were called to steward and something within us cries out for it. Brad Williams argues this point in his article titled “A Christian’s Perspective on Hunting”:
“Most people today function as a kind of ecological scavenger. We hardly ever think about it in these terms, but if you do not farm or hunt, you are removed from the process of creating or harvesting your own food.”
In my case, Williams is correct: I am removed from the process of creating and harvesting, yet I eat (gladly and often). But each time I eat the food that someone else has grown and harvested, raised and slaughtered, I can pause to remember the hands that were tending and keeping on my behalf and to thank the Creator who made it all possible. Remembering is key here, I think. We need regular reconnecting to the great outdoors, whether that’s through food production, camping, boating, or some sort of outdoor sport. We need to remember the beauty of what God made so that we can honor the purpose for which God made it.
Remembering takes time and initiative. It doesn’t happen naturally, at least, not for me. Here too, I must tend and keep a heart that remembers God’s gifts found in nature. Steve Woodworth shares how he is cultivating this in his children. In his article, he explains:
“Early and often we introduced [our three boys] to the natural world. By tent, boots, and bikes we have tried to show them that the God of the Bible we cherish is not only found in steeples and pulpits, but in the roar of white-water and in a display of lighting bouncing off a ridgeline.”
Finding God’s fingerprints upon His creation is almost a lost art. Woodworth’s training of his sons reminds me that even if we are not the garden-tending, animal-raising, outdoorsy type, we must return to a sense of wonder in what God’s hands have made.
My search for wonder is more simple, I think, than Woodworth’s—travel and running are my go-to outdoor activities. Running, while not my first love, gives me that regular connection to creation. There are plenty of days I don’t want to run, but there are never days that I regret pushing myself out the door. I’m almost certain that fresh air in my lungs works like an antidepressant. And because I live in the Midwest, with each run I see seasons changing in the foliage and weather. Getting outside opens my eyes once again to the beauty that I’m often too busy to notice.
Function overrules form when I don’t engage with nature firsthand, through my senses. If neither my survival nor my play get me into the great outdoors, I miss out. For when I’m not outside regularly, that’s when I forget the world is bigger than just me and my concerns. Maybe that’s why God handed His world to us, so that we wouldn’t get lost inside of ourselves.
-Erin Straza, Associate Editor
Image: “Scotland – England Border” by James/Flickr CCBY2.0