As a kid, I took for granted the idea that our food, in some way or another, came from the land. I grew up on a farm that my family owned for three generations, so food, and the land that produced it, was literally all around me. It was a long time before I really thought about the fact that not everyone could pick a peach off a tree and eat it in August, or an apple in September, or a pumpkin in October. That was everyday reality for me.
I also learned pretty quickly that just because my dad knew how to coax a plant or tree to produce berries or fruit didn’t mean he had complete control. Peach trees would blossom in the early spring, but a shift to colder weather could bring frost in April, killing the blossoms and the fruit that would have grown from them.
God created the earth and its fruit for our use (Gen. 2:15), and mankind’s very first sin was to abuse that gift through disobedience. But instead of taking back the land He’d created from nothing, God instead put it into our hands to care for and toil over. The land is still our food, whether we grow a tomato ourselves or buy sauce in a can at the grocery store. Yet, with each generation and advancement in agriculture, food production and packaging, distribution, and availability we’ve become more physically separated from the land itself. We haven’t just stopped visiting farms. Most of the time we don’t even know where to find one.
It’s the same with the untamed land around us. Wilderness is hard to even imagine sometimes. As our population grows, so does our need for homes, schools, stores, and businesses. We’ve set nature aside so that what land we have that isn’t consumed by the needs of people is segregated into public parks and preserves, many of which are tamed to meet our needs as well. We take out the nature to add parking lots, bathrooms, souvenir shops. We pave walking trails so that they’re easier on our feet.
None of this is wrong, but it is unsustainable.
When I give one of my kids a gift, particularly one that costs me valuable time and money, I’m hurt when they don’t treat it as a valuable possession. My youngest son loves stuffed animals and values them more than his other toys. He wakes up with back or neck pain some mornings because he sleeps with so many that he runs out of room to lay down comfortably. So when I find one of his stuffies dirty, left out in the rain, or lost altogether, it hurts my feelings a bit. He says he loves it, he plays with it, and he uses it, but despite that he has failed to properly care for it and protect it.
In recent years God has opened my eyes to see that, like my son and his stuffed animals, we tend to use His gifts to us to satisfy our own desires without also taking responsibility to ensure that they are properly cared for. I am annoyed when I go to an amusement park or outdoor eating area and find the trash can overflowing, spilling dirty paper cups and plastic spoons onto the ground, but I don’t take the time to connect that thought to where all this trash will go after someone cleans it up — to a landfill that covers acres of ground, and is itself overflowing.
When I finish eating I go to a big box store. I buy myself a t-shirt because it’s cute and only costs $5. I don’t think about the other 20 cute t-shirts I already own, how easily the thin fabric will tear, leading me to throw this t-shirt in the trash bin, then the garbage truck, then the landfill. I don’t consider whether or not this t-shirt may have been sewn by a child younger than my own, working in a sweatshop, who may never be able to afford the $5 t-shirt that I’ll only wear twice.
It’s big, this problem. It’s everywhere. It hurts to think about it. It makes me want to plug my ears, close my eyes, and pretend I don’t know it’s there.
Which is exactly what we’ve been doing for about the last six generations.
It’s time to stop.
*This is the first post of my new series, A Calling to Stewardship. I invite you to help me treasure the world God created for use and commanded us to work (Gen. 3:19). Let me open your eyes so that you too can see the love of your Creator in every rock, every tree, every animal, and every person.*
Art based on The Lion King produced by tigon at DeviantArt, with my words added.