The neighborhood I live in has recently started giving an annual award for the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood.
I don’t expect to ever win this award.
There are some people in my neighborhood who spend a lot more time, energy and money to beautify their yards than I have any intention of spending. Some people have had their yards completely tilled and reseeded with the grass of their choice, or entirely sodded over. Trees are cut down, bushes uprooted, borders and barriers erected, mulch spread, all to shape yards into what the owner wants.
Maybe I’m too lazy, or maybe I’m too apathetic, but I have no desire to do that. My front and back yard both are mostly “natural area” and sometimes, I admit, I might let it get a little too natural.
I hope I don’t seem judgmental of other people’s yards; I’m glad that they are enjoying being out there and doing the work. But I see in our approach to yards our approach to creation in miniature. Yards can be an example of what I mean when I talk about domination and dominion.
Consider what it takes to transform a front yard into what you envision. People till up the grass, cut down trees, uproot bushes, build barriers and borders, remove or relocate dirt or mulch or stones or whatever else. Shaping a yard like this is a concentrated and intentional work to make the yard be what you want it to be.
I have nothing against a well-kept yard. They really are beautiful to behold. But do you realize how much life is killed to create and maintain our American idealized yard? Native grasses and flowers and trees are ripped up or brought down so that non-native species can be introduced. The fallen leaves of trees are removed, taking with them the nutrients that the soil needs to be replenished and fertilized. Flowers are grown that have been bred to produce large, beautiful blooms without much pollen or nectar, and the animals that depend on these are left hungry. To maintain all of this, we use chemicals, poisons to kill unwanted creatures (plant and animal) and fertilizers to feed the plants we do want, which inevitable find their way into the water.
What is more, the plant life that is often introduced into our yards is non-native and very quickly becomes invasive. These invasive species take over, eliminating native species from our ecosystem. As the native plants are done away with, so are the native animals that depend on these plants. As green and beautiful as some of these yards look, they are surprising death traps in local ecosystems. I have personally given up trying to keep honeybees in my backyard, because they simply cannot survive in my neighborhood ecosystem.
My point is not to shame anyone. I have no problem with people wanting a beautiful yard, and I am very glad that many people enjoy doing that work of beautifying their yard. I believe that you have a right to do with your property as you will.
I also believe that your right comes with responsibility. I encourage all of you to keep your yard’s ecosystem as native as you possibly can, and to use your yard to sustain abundant life for your non-human neighbors.
The example of yard beautification reveals what the unintended results can be of a dominating mindset. Even something as small as how we keep our yards stretches beyond just us. How much more so is creation shaped by how we farm, how we mine, how we produce electricity, how we manufacture goods, and how transport things?
I am a big fan of all of these things. Farming is good. Mining is good. Energy production, manufacturing, transportation, all of these are good. We should not do away with any of these things. We should, however, reconsider how we do these things. Is our approach one of domination, or of dominion?
As Christians, Jesus expects us to be servants to all, especially to the most vulnerable and needy, the ones who are usually the first to suffer from the results of human domination of creation. Christians, therefore, ought to be the ones leading the charge from domination to dominion. Christians ought to be the ones insisting on better ways.
There is a movement toward sustainable farming in America that I am very glad to see catching on. We have realized that the industrial farming that has become the norm is terrible for this planet, and terrible for the creatures being farmed, plant and animal alike. The sustainable farming movement seeks to change farming practices to work better with the systems that God created in nature for the production of abundant life.
It is very hard to change. In many cases, practices that have been around for a few hundred years, such as monoculture crops and livestock, need to be stopped, so that the necessary biodiversity of local ecosystems can thrive. Even one of the oldest farming practices in our history, tilling the ground, is being reconsidered. We have the ability now to plant whole fields of crops without tilling the soil, without breaking up and disturbing all the life in that ground.
It is very hard to change, and many of us are resistant to change (myself included). It is kind of ironic that we who profess to believe that God makes us into new creations are against change as much as we are.
But what is the new creature that Jesus is making us into? Isn’t it a creature of love and compassion, as Jesus himself is of love and compassion? Therefore, as new creations, our priority is to do what God instructed Adam and Eve to do, to serve and protect. This is a difficult task, I know, and no single one of us can change the world. But we can all change ourselves.
It is very hard to change, but we believe in a God that changes us from the inside out. And if all Christians began changing their lives, and especially if those of us who live high consumption lifestyles (I’m talking to the man in my mirror here) change how we are using this creation, it will have a large impact indeed.