“The Work of Creating
Wise and Loving Communities “
A Review of
A Conservationist Manifesto.
by Scott Russell Sanders.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
A Conservationist Manifesto.
Scott Russell Sanders.
Paperback: Indiana Univ. Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $17 ] [ Amazon ]
A Conservationist Manifesto is a glorious new collection of essays by Scott Russell Sanders, the noted, novelist, nature writer and Distinguished Professor of English at Indiana University. Sanders set forth the tone for this collection in the preface by challenging the prevailing consumerism of Western culture and issuing the call for us to “savor and preserve” the world instead of devouring it (xi). The book is divided into three parts which represent facets of Sanders’ vision of conservation: “Caring for the Earth,” “Caring for Home Ground” and “Caring for Generations to come.” The use of the language of care here stands in contrast to the carelessness of consumer culture (see, for instance, John McKnight’s The Careless Society) and should also should be of interest to the Church as we seek to embody our vocation as stewards of creation. In the book’s first part, Sanders explores the language and imagery that we use to speak of the Earth as a whole. He begins by drawing on the biblical story of Noah (artfully juxtaposed with that of present-day tree-sitting environmental activists) to challenge us to see the Earth as an Ark. He concludes:
We are not the captains of this vessel, although we may flatter ourselves by thinking so. We are common passengers, and yet because we are both clever and numerous, we bear a unique responsibility to do everything we can to assure that this one precious ark will stay afloat, with all the least and greatest of our fellow travelers safely on board (21).
The next essay, on “Common Wealth” is reminiscent of Wendell Berry’s work, and especially of Bill McKibben’s renowned book Deep Economy. In an age where consumerism implores us to amass a wealth of stuff for ourselves as individuals, Sanders argues eloquently that we need to recover a sense of resources that we hold in common with our neighbors. Churches, in particular, should meditate on the wisdom of his thought that “The work of creating wise and loving communities begins with cherishing our common wealth” (32). In the essay, “Two Stones,” Sanders uses two small stones – one a chunk of 320-million-year-old Indiana siltstone, the other a lump of pumice taken from the shore of Ghost Lake after the explosion of Mt. St. Helens – to tell two inter-woven stories about the Earth. The siltstone tells the story of the Earth’s “great age and ceaseless flow and perennial vigor” (66). The pumice, on the other hand, tell the story of nature’s resiliency and capacity to heal herself. These stories, taken together, remind us of the importance both of conserving the “living abundance” of the Earth and of the humility with which we must approach this task.