Voices from the Summer Institute: Norman Wirzba
Norman Wirzba, a friend and colleague here at Duke Divinity School, has a passion for helping the Church recognize the integral role that creation (and our relationship to the creation as fellow creatures) must have in the work of reconciliation. The following is a compilation of reflections he shared this week during the Summer Institute in the seminar entitled “Land, Covenant and the Gospel of Reconciliation.”
God’s reconciling work does not begin and end with humanity but extends to the whole creation. We are God’s creatures called to live in interdependent relationships with other creatures. There are many ways we are called to live responsibly as creatures made in the image of God, including eating and work.
As creatures, we need to eat, and to eat means dependence. Why did God create a world where we need to eat? Eating is fundamental yet we spend so much of our time trying to imagine ourselves as independent. Our culture tells us that we stand over and against one another. The garden story is different. God created the animals and the birds, but none of them are partners to Adam, so God creates Eve and they are called to be one flesh. They are both naked and unashamed, vulnerable with no need to apologize. Two people stand different but not ashamed. Life becomes real life only when it is marked as “we.” Human difference is not the problem but separation and estrangement.
You can’t have reconciliation if you don’t talk about the land. The source of so much of our broken relationships grows out of our broken relationship with the land. Reconciliation must include the whole creation. Economies are a system of relationship–to others, to the land, to creatures. If reconciliation must start with the land, we should be very disturbed that today’s economy has no respect for the land. What has happened in our society that cultivating the land is no longer a viable vocation? A Christ-shaped economy is not founded on a fight for scarce goods, not characterized by separation and struggle. This economy is not about possession, but about giving up. It’s about sharing membership, bringing more creatures to the table.
Our naming of things has tremendous import for how we relate to those things. If I call something a weed and you call it a flower, we will relate to those things in very different ways. When we speak about the “environment,” this term lacks intimacy. No one “loves” an environment. “Nature” refers to that which is not culture, that place you go and visit but not the place where you live. Instead, the Bible must be what shapes our language. The world is God’s creation and God is the Creator. Naming it “creation” makes all the difference. It is not a stockpile of resources. It demands a whole new set of relationships.
About the Author: Dr. Norman Wirzba is the Research Professor of Theology, Ecology and Rural Life at Duke Divinity School. He pursues research and teaching interests at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies. In particular, he focuses on understanding and promoting practices that will equip both rural and urban church communities to be more faithful and responsible members of creation. His forthcoming book is Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating. Norman has also published The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age and is co-author of Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight.
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