17 Dec

Text by Rick McVicar, image by Adobe Character Animator, Updated May 3, 2024

     The writer of Mark’s Gospel displays a complicated relationship with nature. 

     At times the gospel seems in sync with nature, while in other instances the writer treats nature as a real problem. This ambivalent attitude towards nature has been a part of Christianity ever since.

     So what is the significance of this dichotomy for Christians and the church in the 21st century with the threat of ecological collapse looming due to human-caused climate change?

     Mark’s beginning demonstrates that a tension between nature-loving and nature-controlling has always been a part of the Christian tradition. The tradition has always acknowledged God as the creator. However, the tradition has also placed humans at the top of the heap, who have practically been made mini-gods in their rule over other creatures. 

     A human, Jesus Christ, is raised from the dead at Easter, not rabbits nor chickens. No, at Easter rabbits no longer give birth and chickens no longer lay eggs. Their roles are reversed, thanks to Christians who are made mini-gods over other creatures.

     `While this example may be a bit farcical, it does highlight the strange relationship Christianity has had with nature. That strangeness is put on steroids for Christmas, when young live trees are cut, brought indoors and thrown to rot on the curb two weeks later.

          If churches want to do something for the environment, they can begin by overhauling their celebrations of Holy Days, which leave huge carbon footprints around the globe. Do we really need to fill Easter baskets with plastic grass? When it comes to Lent, Christians need to give up plastic rather than chocolate.

     Of course, that is not an easy thing to do. I have begun buying organic food to help out the planet and my health, only to find them wrapped in plastic. I have even seen potatoes individually wrapped in plastic. Why? I have no idea.

     So I have begun taking paper lunch sacks with me to collect my vegetables without placing them in plastic for the checkout line.  Then I went to buy paper sacks for garbage bags, but could find none. Fortunately, a woman at Kroger gave me 10 free sacks.

     Celebrating Easter without plastic may be just as hard. We may just have to find substitutes for plastic when we invite children to egg hunts.

     This tortured relationship with nature may have begun as soon as the stone got rolled away from Jesus' tomb. Now there is a strong nod to nature for you. Does the resurrection put Jesus in control over nature, or does it place the Christ at one with nature?

        This love-hate relationship with nature is demonstrated from the very beginning of Mark's Gospel.  In Mark 1:2-3, a messenger appears in wilderness to “prepare your way… make straight paths for him” (NIV). According to footnotes, the writer is referring to Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.

                                          Click on image to go to YouTube animated video.

     What is interesting about the Malachi text is that God is found in the temple (NRSV). Mark transplants God’s location to wilderness, clearly a nod in favor of nature. However, Mark’s nature loving is short lived, as paths must be made “straight.” There is no tarrying along crooked, meandering paths crisscrossing across wilderness grounds. 

     Indeed, the Isaiah text reads like justification for building freeways. “Make straight in the desert a highway,” states Isaiah 40:3 (NSRV). In the next verse, valleys and mountains are to be leveled. God is going to take control of nature with a heavy hand. 

     In Mark’s Gospel, these references to Hebrew prophets are followed by the introduction of John the Baptist, who lives at one in nature in a wilderness setting. John wears clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt and eats locusts and honey (1:6, NIV). John preaches along the banks of the Jordan River, where he performs baptisms. 

     However, here again nature loving is followed by antagonism towards nature, as John’s preaching attracts throngs of people trapsing through the wilderness to be baptized. People come from far and wide, emptying out the city of Jerusalem. One can only imagine the amount of litter they toss throughout the wilderness as they travel to be baptized. 

     As you find ways to reduce plastic, may you have plenty of artful health.


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