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In the ’90s when the book “Whatcom Places” was being conceived, Bob Keller asked me to write the chapter on Lynden. I was honored to be asked, but was quick to note that I could do so only if I could get at the underlying ethic that shaped our view of the land. His response was, “that is just what I want you to do.”
I asked if he knew how the Whatcom Land Trust got started. “That didn’t start at Western Washington University or Huxley College, that started in the basement of the Dutch Mothers restaurant, and I called the first meeting,” I informed him. He was much surprised, and insisted that be included in the chapter, Loving the Land in Lynden. In short, it is rooted in the Christian tradition, as noted in this excerpt from the chapter:
“But why would Lynden-based Concerned Christian Citizens be the origin of this movement? For that we need a quick lesson in history and theology. Though not founded by Dutch immigrants, Lynden was discovered by them around 1900. They brought with them a sturdy Calvinism which immediately gave birth to Reformed churches, and as early as 1910, Lynden Christian School. Their Calvinism emphasized the sovereignty of God over all of life, or as Dutch theologian and prime minister Abraham Kuyper once stated, ‘There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not say, “This is mine! This belongs to me!”’ Psalm 24 claims, ‘The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’ The Creation was God’s handiwork, and He placed Adam and Eve in the garden ‘to work it and take care of it.’ (Gen. 2:15) John Calvin in a commentary on Genesis taught, ‘Let him who possesses a field so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence, but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated…let everyone regard himself as a steward….’”
The Christian scriptures are chock-full of references to the Creation. Likewise full of “justice” language: “Endow the King with justice” and justice for the poor, the widow, the alien. The Center for Public Justice adopted the phrase “Justice for the Land,” which is essentially what Elisabeth Robson is calling for, without the religious language that I might prefer. (See “Only in a society separated from nature does ‘Rights of Nature’ make sense,” Salish Current, July 28, 2023)
I am a strong advocate of principled pluralism, which means that in this very diverse nation, we do not shed our principles when we enter the public square. Thus as a Christian I may speak into the issues of the day from my Christian worldview even as a Secularist speaks from his or her worldview. Indeed, from the Christian community, there are large movements and faith-based organizations that are pleading and praying that justice for the land will be honored. (There are also too many Christians like the rest of the world who ignore their responsibility for Creation care.)
There were voices that argued my chapter with its religious language did not belong in the book. I’m told that Bob Keller and Rand Jack “went to the mat” for its inclusion. They understood pluralism, in fact wanted it to be the last chapter because it closed with a prayer:
“Father, I pray for my community, all my friends and fellow citizens, that we will do justice to the land, to the creatures, to all. I pray for an ethic that will move us to be stewards of the earth. I pray for a grateful heart to appreciate this wonderful place in Creation called Whatcom County and the smaller part in it called Lynden.
“Thank you for productive cattle and graceful horses that feed on and run through our pastures, and for all the lovely critters that make up the web of life. Thank you for corn choppers and computer chips, machines and tools that take away the drudgery of work. Thank you for the geneticist, the chemist, the agronomist who uncover the intricacies of Creation.
“Father, if we have to build bigger barns, would it not be for greed or ego! Would you prevent us from always bending our knee to the market, treating it like it is God?
“Father, make us aware of any abuses we engage in, polluting our water, spreading too much manure, using too many chemicals. May we know when our profits are enough, when we have worked enough, when we have saved enough?
“Father, deliver us from any thought that we are our own, that you have deserted us, that we can do this without you. We simply acknowledge you as the Creator of, ‘all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, Lord God, you made them all.’ Amen.”
All of which is to say that, using a different vocabulary, many Christians are co-combatants with Ms. Robson, deeply engaged in the task of stewardship of the Creation. I hope you welcome this perspective, thereby advancing justice for the land even from a Christian perspective.
— Contributed by Ron Polinder
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