Laudato Si’- Living a Life of Praise

by Alexei Laushkin

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

Laudato Si’ is about climate change, about the environment, and about our culture. The temperament of mankind is manifesting itself in profound brokenness and alienation as evidenced by abortion and how we tend not to esteem marriage, the well being of all children, our elderly, and certainly a whole host of vulnerable peoples. These are issues that the scriptures themselves would take us to task over, especially given that some of the main drivers of global influence and culture are coming from nations that in some way lay claim to Christian heritage, or even if they don’t at present have certainly been heavily influenced by Christianity. Even in our land, the United States we dare not forget the work of God through many people within our midst.

So what sort of life and faith is necessary for these times? Here’s Laudato Si’ addressing a portion of that question:

We are convinced that ‘man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life’.[100] Nonetheless, once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood.[101]We need to remember that men and women have ‘the capacity to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments.’ [102]Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God (127).

Our capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, our spiritual vision has narrowed. In the words of scripture:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11)

We have become near sighted in our faith. We have very much lost the divine love that ought to animate our works of mission and our care for one another not to mention our family life and our life with those we are closest with. Not love of abstract ideas or zeal for salvation without transformation, but real rooted and anchored love that banishes sin from our lives and brings us into a holiness and wholeness of life. The sort of faith that in the words of Laudato Si’: “[that dares] to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” (19).

So what do we do to return to a life of praise? What can we learn from the examples of St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Francis of Assisi, or even Brother William J. Seymour of the Azusa Street Revival.  Divine love was made manifest and so real in each of their lives that creation itself changed. The grace of God was so real and present and holiness so manifest that they each showed us the way to be Christ in their time and place.

Think of what happened in Los Angeles in April 1906 almost 100 years ago. America was still going to go through Civil Rights and years of needing to work through the sins of racism and indifference of other kinds of people that still plagues us to this day. And yet the Lord broke down barriers and brought heavenly unity, a foretaste of what Martin Luther King Jr. saw in hisI Have a Dream speech. A reality not brought about by legislation or clever ways to curb sin, but a radical heart transformation that allowed what was true in heaven to be true on earth.

Think of what happened with St. Seraphim of Sarov. On the eve of the great wickedness that would break out in Russia in the 20th century, the Lord sent this living example of humility, faith, and holiness to strengthen the church and God’s people for the times ahead. This account by Nicholas Motovilov is well worth the time.

Think of what happened with St. Francis of Assisi who was bothered and grieved by what he saw around him in his time, that the Lord used that and his purity of heart to bring something totally new back into the life of the church.

The example of being radical for Christ is at heart of these great saints and this is just a sampling of what God has done through many kinds of people and movements of his people to bring a sense of restoration and wholeness to times of crisis.

Let us not be self-deceived, we are in a time of crisis. The crisis as of yet is not manifesting itself in the same violence of the 20th century, but the crisis in some ways is more severe because the doors and clear teaching on how to become fully Christ like are quickly closing or vanishing from the earth. Think of what is happening to ancient Christian communities around the world, let alone the sort of veiled gospel that is too often preached in this land. We are failing to remember what it means to be God’s people and without that the gates of hell won’t be too far behind. Even today we are seeing the first fruits of this distancing from God in our midst. It is possible that as man tries to live further and further apart from God and each other that the worst days of human nature are just ahead, manifested in an imperial narcissism and indifference to the suffering and frailty that we all experience apart from God.

If we don’t know where we are in our cultural moment we can’t possibly rouse ourselves enough to wake up and turn. To repent and grieve to what’s become of the pursuit of God in each of our own personal lives and than more broadly in the lives around us. This is not for a form of arrogance, as the scripture rightly reminds us we need to look to the sin and log in our own eyes before we attend to our neighbors. But as we look, we ought to grieve, we ought to lament and cleanse ourselves of our own deep defilement before God.

Once we have repented, our eyes can more clearly see what is right around us, and we begin to take steps through small acts of justice and wholeness beginning with our families and than working outwards to our communities.

God has not abandoned us, but we must turn and strive with all our might to achieve another, more heavenly quality of life. That’s what I see as being essential for Laudato Si’ to take hold in the life of the church. We need to be reminded as Pope Francis himself is embodying, mainly what Christ looks like when he is fully present in our lives. What sort of generosity of spirit should characterize our living and being, and than with what patience and creativity we can than use for the life of the world and the life of God’s people and indeed all people on the face of the earth.

Come Lord Jesus, do a work in us that is necessary for the times we face.

Alexei Laushkin is the Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network 

Second Take on Laudato Si’

by Alexei Laushkin

My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them (John 14:23)

The Trinity has something very profound to teach us about relationships. Have you ever thought about that? Ever been on the same page with someone so much so, where there is so much love, care, deference, trust, dependence, that you can act in concert together? Sometimes we see this in a particular friendship, certainly it’s how marriage was designed. When we live into these possibilities as Christians we are experiencing a reflection of the Trinity itself, and as the verse from the Gospel of John states we are invited to do so as we grow in our love and trust of the God who comes to heal and to save.

Can you imagine just for a moment when Jesus went away to pray during his ministry what things He, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit talked about. Knowing the problem of the separation between God and man so well, knowing the history of God’s people so well, knowing their rescue out of Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness, their rejection of the prophets, can you imagine the creativity, the love, and intimacy that marked their fellowship as they discussed and discerned what to say, what to embody, how to set us on a new path of new life and new creation.

Let’s remember that  Jesus said that his words were the words the Father gave him to say. Sometimes in the gospels we get visual manifestations of the Trinity in relationship, as in the Baptism of Jesus, or on the Mount of Transfiguration, but those realities were all present to our Lord Jesus.

Healing and full fellowship. That’s the aim of the Trinity for us. My thoughts go to love and peace, life and contentment, or in other words the glory to glory of sanctification as I continue to reflect on ‘Laudato Si.

Here’s what I believe is one of the central points to ‘Laudato Si’ which is about the environment, but it’s as much about us, human nature, the challenges facing the church, and the grave challenges facing humanity:

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation (48)

The causes aren’t just structural they are internal. Both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Sergius of Radonezh experienced a profound healing in their relationship with mankind, with God, and God’s creation. As Orthodox and Catholic commentators will say, they both experienced some return to the original state with God with some earthly manifestation of that reality. That’s incredible! A healing and love and intimacy so profound between God and man, in relationships that they had with other people, that it inevitably spilled over to the relationship with God’s creation.

Charles Spurgeon says something very similar on reflecting on these dynamics. He says when we look at why there is so much enmity between man and creation that really what we are seeing is God’s creatures take up their masters quarrel with us.

Well if we have ceased to quarrel with the master, if we have ceased to quarrel with each other, then naturally God’s creation will cease quarreling with us.

As many of you know, I was recently at the Vatican for several different reasons. During my trip I had up to 5 meetings with various senior officials.

A bit of background. Evangelicals have long exercised a degree of leadership on climate change and the environment. Also the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has done much to bring leadership and the full richness of Orthodox thought to our contemporary environmental challenges. I have many friends and colleagues who have done the same in the Roman Catholic world. Now the Papal encyclical offers fresh and compelling leadership. The encyclical itself opens the door for dialogue and action.

This is a unique time to build our heart muscles with each other. As Christians divided by human nature and sin, we have a unique opportunity for new dialogue and encounter. Who knows what God will do with these fruits? We do know that they can be in accord with the profound prayer for unity found in John 17.

Alexei Laushkin is the Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network. 

How The Trinity Changed My Mind on Creation Care

by R. Scott Rodin, MTh, PhD

Ten years ago I faced a crisis of faith.  I’d been raised to believe that there was a pecking order to God’s love: our eternal souls first, our physical bodies a distant second, and creation a very distant third.  Life and faith were evaluated through this criteria screen, and creation almost always paid the price.

What caused me to question this flawed filter was my Trinitarian theology.  In considering God’s triune nature I reached a point where I could no longer accept that God cared less about how we treated his creation than by how we treated one another. I wasn’t sure where to go next, but I was determined that the Trinity would prevail in wherever this took me.  I began by stepping back and looking again at creation through the lens of relationship and not utility. Let me explain.

We believe that our God is triune in his very nature.  This means that the nature of God is defined by relationships at the most profound level. It also means that he created a world that would feature relationships as its defining mark. Quantum physics, the Genome Project and a wide array of scientific discoveries continue to affirm that our universe is an amazing display of interrelatedness and interdependence. In this way creation declares the glory of its Creator. When humanity entered the scene, God continued the theme, created us male and female for the highest form of created relationship.  And he immediately placed us in a garden with the command to tend it.

We witness four levels of relationship that are established in Genesis 1-2; our relationship with God, with our self, with our neighbor and with creation. How else would a triune God create than by establishing everything in the context of relationship? We were meant to live in whole, meaningful and mutually fulfilling relationships at all four of these levels.

This relational understanding of creation is critical if we are to grasp the breadth of the devastating impact of the fall. Scripture tells us that the fall brought brokenness to these relationships at all four levels. Our relationship with God was broken, requiring the mediation of priests, temples and sacrificial rites.  Our relationship with our self was broken, requiring us to find meaning and purpose in a life now dominated by sin and its consequences.  Our relationship with our neighbor was broken ushering in the history of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. And our relationship to creation was broken, relegating us to work the earth and produce a crop from the sweat of our brow.

With this Creation-Fall backdrop understood in Trinitarian terms, I turned to Christ’s work of atonement. There is a powerful moment in The Passion of the Christ is when Mary works her way through the crowd to come to Jesus’ side as he falls under the weight of the cross.  There Mel Gibson takes Jesus’ words of victory and hope from Revelation 21:5 and has him speak them to his mother on the way to Calvary, “I am making everything new!”

Indeed he was.  Our understanding of the atonement must be as comprehensive and inclusive as that of creation and the fall. We are told that everything that was lost in the fall was restored in Christ. The broken relationships at all four levels were taken up into Christ in the Incarnation, healed by his wounds on the cross, and restored in his resurrection.  Paul tells us, “Just as one sin resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in the justification and life for all people.”  (Romans 5:18)

Here was the critical moment in my journey.  If God created us for whole, loving, and fulfilling relationships at these four levels, if we then lost everything in the Fall, and Christ subsequently bought all of it back for us in his life, death and resurrection, then it follows that God has given back these relationships to us saying, “Take care of these, they are not yours.  You lost them and I bought them back for you.  It cost me the blood of my Son.  These are precious gifts.  Steward them out of your love for me.”

That settled it for me.  My commitment to creation care became the unquestionable result of my Trinitarian faith. The moment I realized that all of life’s relationships at every level of my existence were precious gifts from God, my understanding of faithful stewardship was expanded further than I ever could have imagined. For me the most radical expression of that steward responsibility was a redeemed understanding of my call to care for God’s creation.

So as a result of this Trinitarian journey, here are my newfound commitments.

  • I care for creation because I love the triune God, the Creator.
  • I care for creation because God loves me and created me in His image for this work.
  • I care for creation because in doing so I reflect God’s relational nature and His image in me.
  • I care for creation because Christ has redeemed me with his blood, and that redemption includes my relationship to the world he created and called ‘good’.
  • I care for creation because to do so is an expression of my love for my self and my neighbor.
  • I care for creation because it is not mine, it is God’s, and I am its steward, created and redeemed for this work.
  • I care for creation because to do less would be to deny God’s intent in creation, pour contempt on the cross and disdain the free gift God has made possible for me through Jesus Christ.
  • I care for creation because as a child of the triune God and a follower of Jesus Christ, I can do no less.

R. Scott Rodin has been in not-for-profit leadership and consulting for over twenty-seven years.  He is the President of Kingdom Life Publishing.  He also serves as a Partner and Executive VP for Strategic Alliances for Artios Resource Partners and he is a Director and Principal of the consulting group of OneAccord NFP.