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Progressive Voice: Called to Promote Environmental Justice

Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Rev. Jonathan Linman 

I moved to Arlington a year ago after 18 years in the concrete jungle of New York City where the only contact I had with nature in my apartment was a view of a mimosa tree from my fifth-floor kitchen window. Thus, I now relish my occasions outdoors at my Arlington home where I spend all the time I can on my porch, deck or brick patio in the yard.

While we live amidst the fifth largest metropolitan area in the nation, nature is all around us — the cacophony of the once-every-17-years cicadas noisily asserted nature’s presence this year. Our suburban context cannot ultimately overshadow nature’s claims on us. Yet our species tries to “fill the earth and subdue it” as the mythic creation account in Genesis in the Bible puts it. Our stewardship of mother earth has been anything but exemplary.

I notice this in subtle ways, like the scarcity of fireflies on summer nights, a foreboding sign of the collapse of many insect populations due to human practices. I also notice, in not-so-subtle ways, the human effects of seeking to control the natural world.

On April 30, an army of workers descended on our usually quiet neighborhood wielding lawnmowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers and chainsaws, all in the name of imposing “order.” The irony of this intrusive, un-natural cacophony was that it occurred on National Arbor Day, a day dedicated to planting and caring for trees, not cutting them down!

The point of these musings? We as a species are beckoned to promote environmental justice right here at home in Arlington.

The congregation I serve as pastor has worshiped outdoors for several months because of the coronavirus. This has been a silver lining amidst the overbearing clouds of our pandemic-induced truncated routines. The songs of the birds accompany our communal singing. Even the cicadas offered their strange sounds to the proceedings, enhancing our connection with nature.

Outdoor worship forces us to admit in humility that we are subservient to nature’s elements with weather — too hot or cold or wet — that we cannot control. All of this is an exhortation for our congregation to get serious about working for environmental justice.

One such effort that seeks to be environmentally friendly and to serve human need is our community garden, our “Plot Against Hunger.” Our garden is lovingly nurtured by our volunteer gardeners who practice sustainable agriculture in microcosm to raise wholesome, healthy produce to benefit the hungry and food insecure in our community.

But there is more to be done. As we anticipate a return soon to congregational programming as the pandemic subsides, our congregation’s leaders will begin to discern ways we can practically promote environmental justice locally while also adding our voice of advocacy to more global concerns. Our national church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, had the foresight in 1993, before climate change was front-page news, to adopt a social statement: “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice.” This statement will ground and guide our conversations and decision-making.

While I cannot predict our specific course of action, we as a congregation aim to be among many local organizations that add leaven to the loaf to nurture a more sustainable and harmonious blend between humanity and the natural world.

Even in our suburban context, the global struggle between nature and the human species is unavoidable. We cannot escape this conflicted reality even here in our pristine neighborhoods. Thus, I welcome hearing from other organizations who also share a passion for environmental justice. The synergies of partnerships will take us further than if we act alone.

Linman is pastor of the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Arlington’s Westover neighborhood.

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