Gardening Eden

author Michael Abbaté's Blog

FAQ May 26, 2009

1. Tell us about your book, Gardening Eden.

Gardening Eden explores the relationship between spiritual faith and environmental stewardship, and it encourages people of faith to recognize the responsibilities and rewards of protecting the planet.

 As a committed Christian who has worked in the field of sustainability for much longer than it’s even been called that, I believe our faith can make us green.

2. What inspired you to write this book?

I have been trying to use words to reconcile the discordant voices in my head.  For nearly 25 years, I have had my feet in two different worlds:  one the world of landscape architecture and urban design, and the other in the world of contemporary Christianity.  Those in my work world didn’t seem much interested in spiritual things.  Those in my faith community didn’t seem too interested in protecting the environment.

The more I thought, the more I studied, and the more I prayed, the more I was convinced that these are not mutually exclusive points of view.  In fact, they are fully compatible, and I contend, both necessary to fulfill the other. 

3. In your opinion, who will benefit most from reading this book?

Gardening Eden will help those who consider themselves people of faith to see the incredible benefits of becoming environmental stewards.  And for those who aren’t motivated by spiritual beliefs themselves, Gardening Eden will help them understand their friends and family members who are. 

It’s not a fad. It’s not about eco-liberals vs. dominionists. It’s about responsibility and embracing opportunity. If you want to save money, enjoy life, feel better, live local, connect with your neighbors, and understand God better, get to know creation. The rewards are endless.

For both groups, the Gardening Tips included in Part 2 and the Resources  section will be helpful to identify ways in which they can live more sustainably.

4. Explain to us what “creation care” means, and how it can deepen our spirituality. 

Creation Care recognizes the source of the natural word around us, namely a Creator God who placed humans on this planet.  But he didn’t just place us here, he gave us our first job description:  to tend and care for Creation, the “garden” .  Whether it is helping the poor, loving the unlovely, or caring for this amazing planet, we grow deeper spiritually when we are fulfilling our calling. 

It’s not a fad. It’s not about eco-liberals vs. dominionists. It’s about responsibility and embracing opportunity. If you want to save money, enjoy life, feel better, live local, connect with your neighbors, and understand God better, get to know creation. The rewards are endless. 

Chapter 7 in Gardening Eden explores this issue, looking at Creation Care as an act of worship.  As Emerson said, “The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship” 

5. In your book, you point out that all too often, Christians and environmentalists are suspicious of each other.  Why do you think this is?

Because we allow politics to blind us to the commonalities between us.  If I can label an idea or person as right-wing or left wing, it allows me to dismiss their ideas without giving them any real intellectual consideration.  But environmental conservation is not fundamentally a political issue, it’s a spiritual one.   At what point did conservation cease being a conservative issue?  And isn’t living conservatively a good thing, a sustainable thing, an admirable thing?

6. You are a founder of GreenWorks, an award-winning landscape architecture design firm. 

      What drew you to this field? 

The mix of creativity (designing for people) with botany and biological sciences (designing with nature).  In my nearly 30 years of professional practice, I have designed national parks (Mt. Rainier), National Historic landmarks (Timberline Lodge), urban parks and plazas (Gresham Center for the Arts Plaza), corporate headquarters and campuses (In Focus), streets, etc.  I now serve as the Urban Design & Planning Director for Gresham, OR a city of 100,000 near Portland.

7. Where in the Bible does God call Christians to be conscious stewards of the earth? 

Genesis 2:8,15, man’s first job description;  “Then the Lord planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he created.  The Lord placed man in the Garden of Eden to tend it and care for it. “ Gardening Eden was not Adam’s punishment; it was his purpose

In Genesis 9, after the flood, God makes an amazing covenant between himself and every living creature on earth. 

In the New Testament, the most beautiful and well known verse is John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…”  We tend to read it “for God so loved the people of the world . 

And one of Jesus’ most impactful parables is the parable of the faithful steward in Luke 12 where he compares the actions of a wise servant who is prepared daily for his master’s return, with that of the negligent steward who thinks that since his master has been long in coming, he can abandon his responsibilities to care for his master’s possessions.

8. How can eco-curious Christians take steps to start living a greener lifestyle?

Several steps.  First acknowledge that this is not another “to do list” .  It starts with a recognition that the way we treat the creation is an extension of how we feel about the Creator.  Therefore, start in your personal devotional life.  Read Genesis 2, Genesis 9, Psalm 24.  

Second, ask God if there are things that he would like you to change.  It may be the type and source of the food you eat, your energy use at home, or how much trash you generate.  In Gardening Eden, I have a couple of helpful tools.  I have separate chapters on Food, Energy, Transportation and Home, giving you helpful tips on how to live as a Gardener of Eden.  There is also a helpful resource guide at the back that is packed with books, websites, and articles providing more guidamce. 

9. In your book, you point out that saving the environment also saves people.  What do you

    mean by that?

In Gardening Eden, I tell three stories from different places around the world that illustrate the connection between our choices and the lives of our fellow human beings in various places of the world:  the oil region of Nigeria, the coal mining area of West Virginia, and the coffee-growing region of Guatemala.  These stories illustrate that choices we make here in the US can affect others hundreds or thousands of miles away. 

The kind of coffee we drink may make the difference needed for a Guatemalan coffee farmer to provide education for his children – something we take for granted.  With education, his children can escape their abject poverty.

Reducing our energy use and advocacy may end coal mining through mountain-top removal in West Virginia.  This may result in cleaner water and safety for the folks that lives in the hills around these coal-mining sites. 

10. In your book, you point out that the first step along creation’s path to worship is observation – but for most of us, our observation skills have grown weak.  Why do you think that is, and how can we change it?

For one, we don’t get out much anymore.  We site in our family rooms watching hi-def blue-ray facsimiles of nature, rather than getting out in it. 

11. What do you think is currently the most pressing environmental issue facing us in the 21st

       century?

Two things:  First, selfishness;  We want what we want, and don’t want to be bothered wit the impacts of our wants on other people or species.  Secondly, Disconnectedness – we don’t understand how our lifestyle choices affect other people and the planet; we don’t know where our food comes from; we don’t see the value of other species

12. Like other “locavore” authors in the past few years, you discuss extensively why eating locally is beneficial to the environment.  Why is it all beneficial to consumers?

 Safer (less pesticides, less energy use and pollution caused in transporting)

Cheaper (

Helps the local economy by recycling money in a single community

13. Shopping at Whole Foods is great and all, but we’re currently in the middle of a global recession.  How will an environmentalist ethic help reduce my cost of living? 

Fortunately, most of the ideas for living as an earth-steward results in saving money as well as the environment.  Driving less, walking more saves gas.  Turning down the thermostat at home saves energy and money.  Buying locally grown foods helps recycle your money in your local community, helping your neighbors as well as giving your family fresher, more healthful foods 

14. Similarly, how will environmentalism help the global economy?

A key role of the church is to help those in need.  However, as we have seen in China, repeating our mistakes is not the way to help a country become a developed and prosperous nation. 

15. What are some examples you’ve seen of churches that are going green?

Churches all across the country are picking up the mantle and helping tend the Garden.  Pastor Joel Hunter’s Northland church near Orlando Florida is a leader among churches, and even is a part of a national creation care for pastors movement.  In Boise, Idaho, pastor Tri Robinson’s Vineyard Church has hosted national gatherings of church leaders focused on environmental stewardship.  Here is Portland, Imago Dei Community led by Pastor Rick McKinley has been at the forefront of the movement.  

One of the interesting facts about this movement is that it is being driven by the younger members of congregations who are tired of the political polarization that has left the evangelical Christian church silent on environmental issues.  It is also students at Universities across the country who are leading campuses to change their energy, transportation and construction habits.

I believe that this movement will sweep through churches in the next 5 years as it has across our nation’s campuses.  On May 13-15 there is the Flourish conference, the nation’s first conference on Creation Care for pastors and church leaders.  This shows that there is a blossoming movement on this issue among church pastors and members.

16. Where can we find more information about your book?

Gardening Eden available in all local bookstores, and is also available at all major online retailers.  In addition, you can find out more information about the book at my website, michaelabbate.com; that’s “Michael a-b-b-a-t-e dot com”

Unfortunately, the entire bible and certainly the gospel of Jesus was paradigm-shattering.  He doesn’t allow us to live in an attitude of self-righteousness.  He isn’t impressed if we live according to some green check-list.  Rather, he wants us to do the right things for the right reason.  He is as concerned with our heart as he is with our actions.  He doesn’t use guilt to motivate us; rather he demonstrates love and hopes this will turn our hearts toward him.  I have come to believe that we can “go green, guilt-free.”

Other Questions

From Raz @ Eco-Libris

1. Firstly I’m curious what feedback you get so far on the book, especially from the faith community?

The reaction has been great.  There seem to be two groups of people from the faith community that I have spoken with.  The first are those who have previously had their interest piqued in the topic of ecological stewardship and conservation.  These folks seem to appreciate the biblical background and personal stories included in Gardening Eden.  The other group are those who happen to be gathered when I am speaking, but don’t come with any particular interest in the subject of Creation Care.  I spoke at a group like this a few weeks ago at Praise Assembly in Springfield, MO.  There, most people came because it was Wednesday night service, not necessarily to hear me.  They were initially skeptical, but after I discussed the primary themes in Gardening Eden, many seemed to come to a new understanding and willingness to make personal lifestyle changes to protect the environment.  A frequent comment I hear is that “this seems not much different than practicing faithful stewardship of my money or my time – it all belongs to God; my time, my money and the planet.”  

When I spoke last week at Flourish 09, the first national conference on Creation Care for pastors and church leaders in Atlanta  (wwww.flourishonline.org), the audience was much more in tune with the spiritual mandate to protect the planet.  There, I was invited to discuss steps churches could take to model this conservation ethic.   Overall, there has been a lot of interest and enthusiasm on the topic.

However, it is not just those in the faith community who have explored Gardening Eden.  In fact, since the book has come out, I have been honored to have many deep spiritual conversations with people who would not identify themselves with any type of organized faith community.  These discussions have been rich, meaningful and profound.  I believe that these discussions have encouraged many of these folks to reevaluate their personal world-view and spiritual beliefs.  If nothing more, it has shown to them that not all evangelical Christians are right-wing hate-mongers, just like I tell my faith-filled friends that not all environmentalists are left-wing human-haters!

 2. What brought you to write this book?

I have tried to use words to reconcile the discordant voices in my head.  For nearly 25 years, I have felt like I have had my feet in two different worlds.  My professional world is filled with good people who are concerned about environmental degradation, but are much less interested in (or willing to talk about) a spiritual life.  On the other hand, when I have talked to friends in my church, very few of them seem to care much about environmental stewardship.  I believe that the two are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, the person of faith has a more clear and rational mandate to protect nature than the secularist. 

The more I thought, the more I studied, and the more I prayed, the more I was convinced that these are not mutually exclusive points of view.  In fact, they are fully compatible, and I contend, both necessary to fulfill the other.

 3. What you find as the main obstacles of believers to go green and combine environmentalism with their faith?

Here’s a common refrain I have heard:  “Mike, I don’t know WHO to believe or WHAT to do.”  Many people are “eco-curious”, that is, they have a vague feeling that they should care about the environment, but they don’t know how to make the first step.  They also wonder if they have to buy in to a political agenda to live green. 

Sometimes, we have allowed politics to blind us to the commonalities between us.  If I can label an idea or person as right-wing or left wing, it allows me to dismiss their ideas without giving them any real intellectual consideration.  Many believers have done this with the issue of environmental stewardship.   But environmental conservation is not fundamentally a political issue, it’s a spiritual one.   At what point did conservation cease being a conservative issue?  And isn’t living conservatively a good thing, a sustainable thing, an admirable thing? 

Gardening Eden helps people to sort out the fact from opinion, theology from scientific theory, and provides some very practical ways we can all live to be called “good and faithful stewards.”

4. You say that “conservation is a conservative issue” – why is that and if so, how come it became so identified with liberals?

Conservatives are people who think that it is wise to be careful how we expend resources, whether financial or environmental.  They tend to want to be careful, to ensure that there are enough resources for future needs.  Therefore, conservation of our planet with its remarkable resources and wildlife is a wise and conservative way to live.

In fact, in 1989 the United Nations Brundtland Commission came up with this definition of “sustainability”, which has continued to this day:

“The ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

Doesn’t that sound like an idea rooted in the concept of conservation?

During the Reagan Administration, a few notable strides were made on behalf of the environment.   However, the greatest impact was probably made by James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior. His combative, attacking style tended to polarize the discussion.   With Watt, individual property rights were seen as trumping the needs of the collective.  In 1968, Hardin had described the results of this mindset as the “Tragedy of the Commons”.  When the environment and personal property rights were linked with abortion and other socially conservative issues, it became almost exclusively partisan, and impossible to discuss the alliance between “conservative” and “conservation”.  

Because the church did not step forward in the 1960s and 1970s and provide leadership in insisting that environmental protection was critical for both people and the planet, other champions stepped forward.  Organizations such as the Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife stepped into the breach and began to organize and lobby for environmental protection.  This is not a bad thing at all. I just wish the church could have been in the vanguard of the movement, and doing it for the best possible reasons – out of love and adoration for the Creator of it all.

5. I believe that religion can have a significant role in unifying humanity under the green flag and pushing the green movement into mainstream. Do you think it’s possible? will it ever happen?

Not only do I believe it is possible, but I think it is likely.  As people grasp the spiritual implications of environmental stewardship, a new personal motivation will come into play.  Spiritual faith has a profound ability to inspire people to do right, to deny oneself, and to make sacrifices for others.  When this is practiced in the nation’s churches, cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, and other faith communities, tremendous environmental successes will be inevitable.  More important than that, I believe the Creator of all will be pleased.

6. How do you explain the fact that the Pope and the Vatican are going green so fast while the Christian leadership in the U.S. is lagging behind?

There are many pastors from around the country who are leading the effort to reestablish the church’s responsibility to protect the planet.  Tri Robinson of Boise Vineyard, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek in Chicago and Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Orlando have been incredibly effective and courageous Christian leaders in the movement.  Two new organizations have sprouted to help carry the message across the pews:  Flourish, is a national network that inspires and equips churches to better love God by reviving human lives and the landscapes on which they depend (www.Flourishonline.org).  Another group is Creation Care for Pastors, an organization committed to “serving pastors who are interested in a growing emphasis within the Christian community called Creation Care.”  (www.creationcareforpastors.com).  One of the first and foremost organizations is the Evangelical Environmental Network, led by Rev. Jim Ball (www.creationcare.org). 

However, having said this, I would agree that the church is just in its infancy of being involved in this issue.  As I talk to people around the country, particularly committed Christians 20- 40 years of age, I have become convinced that it is inevitable that this creation care will transform faith communities: Evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish.  It is a movement that will be from the bottom up – truly grass roots, if you’ll forgive the pun.  Younger believers are not willing to let some of the polarized politics of the past prevent a thorough discussion and action on this issue.

7. Do you feel that it will be easier now for liberals and conservatives to work together with the leadership of President Obama? 

The election of President Obama also points to a potential shift in the public’s desire to see some real environmental leadership by the federal government.  Whether or not conservatives and liberals work together for environmental legislation remains to be seen, but if the past is any indicator, I am doubtful.  But to be honest, I am more interested in how my countrymen and women will respond, rather than our political leaders.  In particular, I am more interested in talking to some of the folks who did not vote Obama, are suspicious of environmentalists and dismiss the issue as driven by left-wing secular humanists. 

Some things are right for an individual to do, regardless of politics.  Helping your neighbor, feeding the hungry, loving your enemy, nurturing a child, stewarding creation.  These are good and right for an individual to do, and must be driven by an inner conviction that is more profoundly personal than a party platform.  Too often, I believe that good, loving and sacrificial people have lumped all environmental issues and programs together, then dismissed them as politically untenable.  I have been told by many readers of Gardening Eden that reading it has caused them to rethink their personal beliefs and to implement different lifestyles and behaviors.  This is not because of a political awakening, but rather a spiritual one. 

8. Is it only the faith community that should take a step forward, or the green movement need also to do something to gain their trust?

I think this is already beginning to happen, and will likely continue.  The Sierra Club, in particular, has reached out to people of faith in meaningful ways.  I think everyone understand that faith is a tremendous force for good, and should no longer be discounted or seen as irrelevant in our “sophisticated” age. 

9. As a Jew I find the concept of guilt connecting between my religious identity (we always feel guilty about something) and my green values. Can it also work for Christians?

Ah…guilt, the “feel-bad” motivator!  With no disrespect to Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, or Evangelical Christianity, I am not a fan of guilt as a motivator.  The most effective motivator I know of is love, not guilt. 

The entire bible and certainly the gospel of Jesus was paradigm-shattering in this regard.  Jesus was not impressed with those whose outward appearances were beautiful, but inside, they were something else entirely. Likewise, God will not be impressed if we live according to some green check-list, but do so with the wrong motives.  He doesn’t allow us to have an attitude of self-righteousness. Rather, he wants us to do the right things for the right reason.  He is as concerned with our heart as he is with our actions.  He doesn’t use guilt to motivate us; rather he demonstrates love and hopes this will turn our hearts toward him.  I have come to believe that we must “go green, guilt-free.”

Just like I can’t tell you how to best steward your financial or time resources, I can’t tell you how to live.  You must seek direction from the God you serve.  It is He, through his Holy Spirit that will call you to make sacrifices, not other mortals.  I can give you ideas on what is effective, but I can’t tell you what is your responsibility. 

10. What are your plans now? Will the book lead you to become more involved with the dialogue between the faith and the environmental community?

I certainly hope so!  I thoroughly enjoy discussing these issues with people both inside and outside faith communities.  I have been honored to speak for audiences in many parts of the country and I very much hope to continue doing this, along with media interviews of various types.

In addition, I am learning the power of the internet and social networking.  People can now follow me through my GardeningEden Twitter feed, Gardening Eden blog (www.gardeningeden.wordpress.com), or my website www.michaelabbate.com.  I am inspired by hearing stories about how others have made decisions to better the environmental condition of the planet.  I also love to dialogue back and forth on questions of both faith and creation care.  I believe that our efforts will make the planet a better place, to be sure, but even more importantly, we will be drawn into a closer relationship of the God who created it all.

From Jon Rutz, Creation Care for Pastors

1.         Many Christians who would consider themselves to be conservatives politically are often anxious when we begin discussing the environment. What do you have to say that could assuage their fears?

Conservatives are people who think that it is wise to be careful how we expend resources, whether financial or environmental.  They tend to want to be careful, to ensure that there are enough resources for future needs.  Therefore, conservation of our planet with its remarkable resources and wildlife is a wise and conservative way to live. 

In fact, in 1989 the United Nations Brundtland Commission came up with this definition of “sustainability”, which has continued to this day:

“The ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” 

Doesn’t that sound like an idea rooted in the concept of conservation?

Here’s a common refrain I have heard:  “Mike, I don’t know WHO to believe or WHAT to do.”  Many people are “eco-curious”, that is, they have a vague feeling that they should care about the environment, but they don’t know how to make the first step.  They also wonder if they have to buy in to a political agenda to live green. 

Sometimes, we have allowed politics to blind us to the commonalities between us.  If I can label an idea or person as right-wing or left wing, it allows me to dismiss their ideas without giving them any real intellectual consideration.  Many believers have done this with the issue of environmental stewardship.   But environmental conservation is not fundamentally a political issue, it’s a spiritual one.   At what point did conservation cease being a conservative issue?  And isn’t living conservatively a good thing, a sustainable thing, an admirable thing?

Gardening Eden helps people to sort out the fact from opinion, theology from scientific theory, and provides some very practical ways we can all live to be called “good and faithful stewards.”

2. Do you have a favorite scripture passage, or a few, that you feel exemplify God’s call to care for creation?

Well, this is a tough question., because there are so many.  But a good place to start is the beginning.

In Genesis 2:8,15, we find humankind’s first job description;  “Then the Lord planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he created.  The Lord placed man in the Garden of Eden to tend it and care for it. “ Here’s the start of it all.  Long before the snake, the apple, and the banishment from the Garden, God had a plan to give us all a fulfilling life in close harmony with the Creator-God.  Gardening Eden was not Adam’s punishment; it was his purpose 

Other favorite passages include the phenomenal 104th Psalm, which I call “the Ecology Psalm”.  Read it and you will see God’s genius even more profoundly.  God’s post-flood covenant with all of creation in Genesis 9 is a remarkable demonstration of the Creator’s love for all of creation.  Psalm 24: 1-2, Hosea 4:3, Romans 1:20 and John 3:16 also jump off the page for me.

3. This seems to be an explosive initiative within the church. Movements are springing up everywhere. What’s changing?

I believe that people under 30 are leading the way on this issue. I have talked with dozens of people who are no longer willing to look at conservation in this left vs. right, polarized way.  They are activists wanting to DO things rather than just debate them.  These folks see the inherent mandate for the faith community to protect the planet, and are frustrated that older generations have failed to act decisively.  They read Shane Claiborne’s book Irresistible Revolution, and decide they too want to move to the inner city to help rebuild a sense of compassionate community.  They hang on to Francis of Assisi’s words: “Preach the gospel at all times – if necessary, use words.”  I think it is a very exciting time to watch how the faith community builds on the activist traditions of the past and transforms itself as doers as well as speakers.

4. I’d like to get involved, but I can’t stop environmental decline…can I? What small steps could I take to make a difference in my home?

Great question.  In light of daily headlines of ecological degradation, it is easy to feel helpless.  This is not much differently than most of us feel during the current economic collapsed.  And yet, we understand that we are called to be faithful stewards nonetheless.  So we set out to act wisely and conscientiously with our finances. 

In a similar way, we should enter into a prayerful examination of our lifestyle and determine changes we can make to honor the Creator.  The second half of Gardening Eden is filled with simple tips that we can consider in four main areas of our lives:  Food, Energy, Transportation and our Homes.  Whether it is buying local produce from a farmer’s market , changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or moving to a place where we can walk to our jobs and most services, everyone’s circumstance is different.  I include 50 ideas for the believing reader’s consideration.

5. My home is practically built with recycled paper and I’m ready to take the next step. How can I influence change in my congregation or in my town? (Feel free to change the wording of this question; once in a while I have to give humor the edge over professionalism)

Get involved in the civic life of your community and your place of worship.  On the community side, how easy is your city to walk around in?  Are there provisions made to encourage pedestrians and bicyclists?  Does your City Council or Mayor have any goals about becoming a Green Community?  Do they buy renewable energy?  Perhaps you can be the person to help lead your leaders to a more responsible position on Creation Care issues.  Volunteer for your city’s Planning Commission, Neighborhood Association, or other group of community influencers.

In your faith community, see if you can put together a group of like-minded people who will help the church leadership understand practical things that they can do to demonstrate this stewardship ethic.  Then, get to work!  I have generated the following Top Ten list of things to green your church or synagogue:

10.       Form a church “Green Team”

9.         Conduct a Creation Care Audit of facilities, operations and maintenance

8.         Develop a Prayer Garden (with the help of landscape architects and contractors)

7.         Use locally grown food at events

6.         Create a community garden

5.         Stop using disposables

4.         Become a model of recycling

3.         Bike or walk to church

2.         Do a local restoration project together as a congregation

1.         Teach and model the biblical basis for Creation Care

6. Do you think that by embracing these concepts, the church at large can become a more faithful witness to the Gospel? How?

Not only do I believe it is possible, but I think it is likely.  As people grasp the spiritual implications of environmental stewardship, a new personal motivation will come into play.  Spiritual faith has a profound ability to inspire people to do right, to deny oneself, and to make sacrifices for others.  When this is practiced in the nation’s churches, cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, and other faith communities, tremendous environmental successes will be inevitable.  More important than that, I believe the Creator of all will be pleased.

When the secular world sees faith communities doing the right things for reasons of conscience, we become more attractive and authentic, matching our doing with our saying.  They hang on to Francis of Assisi’s words: “Preach the gospel at all times – if necessary, use words.”  I think it is a very exciting time to watch how the faith community builds on the activist traditions of the past and transforms itself as doers as well as speakers.

7. Is there anything else you feel evangelical leaders around the country should hear

The Church universal needs them to lead on this issue.  If they do, they will find that their congregations will enthusiastically support them, for the most part.  A few members who have become so deeply politicized that they cannot see God’s truth outside of their narrow political agenda may leave.  But God calls his spokespersons to be men and women of truth and love.   This will require courage, but all of us in the faith community need them to step forward and lead. 

If a leader is in doubt about if the risk is worth it, talk to pastors like Tri Robinson of Boise Vineyard, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek in Chicago and Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Orlando, among others, who have been incredibly effective and courageous Christian leaders in the movement. 

Also, organizations have sprouted to help carry the message across the pews:  Flourish, is a national network that inspires and equips churches to better love God by reviving human lives and the landscapes on which they depend (www.Flourishonline.org).  Your group, Creation Care for Pastors, is an organization committed to “serving pastors who are interested in a growing emphasis within the Christian community called Creation Care.”  (www.creationcareforpastors.com).  One of the first and foremost organizations is the Evangelical Environmental Network, led by Rev. Jim Ball (www.creationcare.org).

Finally, I would encourage pastors and church leaders as well as the laity to contact me and enter into a dialogue on these issues.  I thoroughly enjoy discussing these issues with people both inside and outside faith communities.  I have been honored to speak for audiences in many parts of the country and I very much hope to continue doing this, along with media interviews of various types.

People can now follow me through my GardeningEden Twitter feed, Gardening Eden blog (www.gardeningeden.wordpress.com), or my website www.michaelabbate.com.  I am inspired by hearing stories about how others have made decisions to better the environmental condition of the planet.  I also love to dialogue back and forth on questions of both faith and creation care.  I believe that our efforts will make the planet a better place, to be sure, but even more importantly, we will be drawn into a closer relationship of the God who created it all.

This last one is not on the list of suggested questions, so no response is expected. On the other hand, I think it’s one my audience cares deeply about, and if Michael does choose to answer, that would be wonderful:

Bonus. Even if evangelical leaders can agree that caring for the Garden is important, shouldn’t we be spending the majority of our time looking after others’ spiritual health?

This is, first and foremost, a spiritual issue between each one of us and our Creator.  How should we each be spending our limited days here on Planet Earth?   “Love the Lord your god with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10:27)  Taking care of Creation is a way to fulfill God’s calling for each of us, allows us to express our love and appreciation to God, while helping the poorest of the poor by making sure the planet can sustain all life.  These are two key chapters in Gardening Eden:  Chapter 7: Creation Care as Worship, and Chapter 8:  Creation Care as Compassion.   In sum, our attitude and treatment of the environment is a deeply spiritual issue.

From Kaid Benfield, NRDC

Q:  I was struck by not only the presence of both Old and New Testament sources in Gardening Eden, but also the way some of your thoughts about worship (particularly, for example, the steps of observation, solitude, and meditation) resonate with tenets of Buddhism.  You write of the potential of the environment to be a “bridge” between red and blue politics, between science and faith.  Do you also see it as a bridge between and among different faiths?

A:  Absolutely.  The faith I know best is Christianity, but Judaism and Islam also share a heritage that reaches back to a personal Creator God who gave us a spiritual reason for caring for the environment.  Buddhism and Hinduism, though different in their beliefs about the essence of God, also recognize that humans and the earth are linked in ways more profound than simply our physical needs.  One of the points of Gardening Eden is that environmental stewardship is not, first and foremost, a political issue, it is a personal and spiritual one.

Q:  The American Values Network has recently surfaced as a welcome expression of your values in the political arena, running faith-based ads on Christian radio stations in support of a strong federal climate bill.  Your book is more personal than overtly political, which is important in its own right, but do you think more Christians are becoming ready to embrace pro-environment politics?  What are the signs?

A:  With 83% of Americans claiming some type of spiritual faith, and 75% of Americans believing that the environment is worth making financial sacrifices to protect, it is clear to me that a majority of Americans are motivated both by faith and the environment.  The election of President Obama also points to a potential shift in the public’s desire to see some real environmental leadership by the federal government.  However, I am more interested in talking to some of the folks who did not vote Obama, are suspicious of environmentalists and dismiss the issue as driven by left-wing secular humanists.

Some things are right for an individual to do, regardless of politics.  Helping your neighbor, feeding the hungry, loving your enemy, nurturing a child, stewarding creation.  These are good and right for an individual to do, and must be driven by an inner conviction that is more profoundly personal than a party platform.  Too often, I believe that good, loving and sacrificial people have lumped all environmental issues and programs together, then dismissed them as politically untenable.  I have been told by many readers of Gardening Eden that reading it has caused them to rethink their personal beliefs and to implement different lifestyles and behaviors.  This is not because of a political awakening, but rather a spiritual one.

I also believe that people under 30 are going to lead the way on this issue. I have talked with dozens of people who are no longer willing to look at the issue in this left vs. right, polarized way.  They are activists wanting to DO things rather than just debate them.  These folks see the inherent mandate for the faith community to protect the planet, and are frustrated that older generations have failed to act decisively.  They read Shane Claiborne’s book Irresistible Revolution, and decide they too want to move to the inner city to help rebuild a sense of compassionate community.  They hang on to Francis of Assisi’s words: “Preach the gospel at all times – if necessary, use words.”  I think it is a very exciting time to watch how the faith community builds on the activist traditions of the past and transforms itself as doers as well as speakers.

Q:  Who do you see as the most important audience for your book, and why?

A:  I have felt like I have had my feet in two different worlds.  My professional world is filled with good people who are concerned about environmental degradation, but are much less interested (or willing to talk about) in a spiritual life.  On the other hand, when I have talked to friends in my church, very few of them seem to care much about environmental stewardship.  I believe that the two are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, the person of faith has a more clear and rational mandate to protect nature than the secularist.  So, my primary audience is latter; the Jew, Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, Muslim or other spiritual believer who has not connected his or her faith with the issue of environmental conservation.  However, I am very interested in reaching those who are not “believers”, yet want to explore how faith might influence our society on this issue.

In fact, since the book has come out, I have been honored to have many deep spiritual conversations with people who would not identify themselves with any type of organized faith community.  These discussions have been rich, meaningful and profound.  I believe that these discussions have encouraged many of these folks to reevaluate their personal world-view and spiritual beliefs.  If nothing more, it has shown to them that not all evangelical Christians are right-wing hate-mongers, just like I tell my faith-filled friends that not all environmentalists are left-wing human-haters!

Q:  Portland is world-renowned for its progressive land-use practices, and Fairview Village has won all sorts of acclaim as an embodiment of some of them.  homes in Fairview Village (by: Jason Miller, tndhomes.com)Are you pleased with the progress that metro Portland has made in revitalization, transit-oriented development, containment of sprawl and so on?  Do you believe these practices are of value to people of faith?  What are the challenges to the prospects for these practices becoming more widespread?

A:  As a landscape architect and Urban Design & Planning for a city in the Portland Metro area, I have mixed feelings.  On many levels, Oregon’s landmark land-use rules have prevented much of the sprawl evident in other metropolitan areas.  It has led to innovative developments such as Fairview Village, where I live, Orenco Station in Hillsboro, and others have served as an example of smart growth.  Consequently, many people who live in these types of developments are able to walk to work and to nearby shopping.  This benefits the environment and serves as an example that environmental stewardship does not mean “stop building”, but rather “build smart and sensitively”.

However, for those of us who live here, we have a long list of ways our community could be improved.  I am working to promote more intense development in Gresham’s historic downtown, promoting the benefits of living in a more dense urban situation than the suburban homes on large lots that many of us grew up in.  The current real estate crash has shown that we have definitely overbuilt this type of house.  Many experts predict that when the housing cycle comes back, what will lead the way are condos and apartments in downtowns that offer an exciting, dynamic neighborhood with shopping, jobs and entertainment within walking distance.  There are some experts that believe that the once-prized distant suburban neighborhoods, will become undesirable places to live for new first-time home buyers.

transit-oriented development in downtown Gresham (by: Myhre Group Architects, vis Envision Utah)The net effect of this trend will be beneficial to the environment, as we live more densely and then can protect farm, forest and natural lands around and within our communities.

Q:  When I first became aware of environmental issues, in the early 1970s, the environment was not a partisan issue.  The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Environmental Policy Act were both adopted under president Nixon.  So were the launchings of modern air and water pollution legislation.  What happened?

A:  Hmmm…great question.  During the Reagan Administration, a few notable strides were made on behalf of the environment.   However, the greatest impact was probably made by James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior. His combative, attacking style tended to polarize the discussion.   With Watt, individual property rights were seen as trumping the needs of the collective.  In 1968, Hardin had described the results of this mindset as the “Tragedy of the Commons”.  When the environment and personal property rights were linked with abortion and other socially conservative issues, it became almost exclusively partisan, and impossible to discuss the alliance between “conservative” and “conservation”.  By the way, this is true on both the right and left.   We tend to like to label things in our two party system as one or the other, then dismiss the camp opposite from us. This is why many Americans are frustrated with the two party system, and why thinkers such as Jim Wallis (God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It) are increasing in their influence.

Q:  Many visible Christian leaders who embrace progressive politics are African-American; many visible Christian rightists are white southerners.  As someone who grew up in a white southern Christian context but whose political values are liberal, I often wonder why faith didn’t lead more of us in a direction of compassionate, inclusive politics.  Do you have a sense of how this occurred, and whether faith might become a more unifying factor?

A:  There are many pastors from around the country who are leading the effort to reestablish the church’s responsibility to protect the planet.  As I sit here in an Atlanta hotel writing this, I am preparing for this afternoon’s opening of Flourish 2009, the first national conference on creation care for pastors and church leaders.  Speaking will be Leroy Barber, an African American pastor here in Atlanta, and Joel Hunter pastor of Northland outside Orlando.  Many of the vocal pastors who signed the Evangelical Climate Care Initiative are southerners.

I believe some great alliances have been formed between African-American and white Christian pastors in the past 20 years. There have been many inter-church movements that have built bridges across racial differences.  One of the most prominent ones has been Promise Keepers. Here, African Americans played a very prominent role.

Q:  I think the gardening metaphor really works, and your writing projects how well it works for yourself, as a landscape architect.  The Center for the Arts Plaza in Gresham (by: GreenWorks)Apart from the implications for your faith, what have you personally enjoyed the most in your professional career 

A:  Thank you for the compliment. One of my most fulfilling labors of love will be the grand opening (June 6) of the new Center for the Arts Plaza [rendering on right] in Gresham, Oregon for whom I now work.  I oversaw the design of this plaza when I was with GreenWorks, a private Landscape Architectural firm.  I also continue to enjoy going back to the Oregon Zoo to see the habitat areas I designed 23 years ago.  I am also very excited about how we have paved the future for redevelopment in downtown Gresham.  Oh, and I am very proud of my home raised garden planters [photo above] that I designed and built!  You should see them.

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