Northwesterners often get stereotyped as nature lovers. Having spent eleven years of my life in western Washington and Oregon prior to our most recent move to Corvallis (after a hiatus in the not-quite-as-NW-state of Idaho), I must admit there is some reasoning behind such stereotyping. While I’ve spent most of my life either in Western or Northwestern parts of the United States, I have spent lesser years in the South and Midwest. From my experience, the impressiveness of nature is certainly magnified in the West and Northwest. Often it’s those who have lived other places who are most impressed with the spectacular scenery found in the West and NW. While living in Idaho we once had friends visit from Michigan. Our friend, Jim, could not stop talking about how awed he was with the scenery around us. I then realized I had begun to start taking such scenery for granted.

Given our access to the natural beauty of forest, mountains, and ocean, it’s not a surprise that many Northwesterners do tend to be nature lovers. It might even be said that some worship nature. The technical term for a religion based on nature worship is pantheism. Such a tendency is to worship the creation to the exclusion of the creator. It’s the worship of what has been made without acknowledging the one who made it. It’s an unfortunate disconnect in the same way that laborers often are disassociated from the services they provide i.e., parents disassociated from providing food, clean clothes, and monetary support or farmers and field workers disassociated from growing food bought in fancy packaging in grocery stores. Such a disconnect leads to separation from meaningful relationship. Such a disconnected one sees certain things but fails to see how such things relate to something larger to which that one itself is intricately connected.

While, based on my understanding of God, I would not encourage one to worship nature, I would encourage one to love and respect nature. I would also say that the natural world reflects aspects of the nature of God. Just as it’s difficult for any of us to create something — whether it be pottery, poetry, a painting, a quilt, or a wood carving — without putting something of ourselves into it, our creator God cannot be separated from creation itself. The idea of God being reflected through creation is often spoken of these days as panentheism (God in all). Many Christians speak of the web of creation being similar to an all encompassing ecosystem where everything impacts everything else because all is connected in a giant web of life whose source is the author of life, God. The movement within one small strand of the web is felt by the whole.

Based on my viewing of this year’s hit movie, Avatar, I would say that its creator, James Cameron, wished to convey the interconnectedness of all life in his creation of the fantasy world, Pandora. All emanates from and returns back to the Pandoran deity, Ey’wa (a mixed up pronunciation of Yahweh, the Old Testament reference for God). Cameron’s screenplay is a very panentheistic portrayal of a God of Cameron’s making. Movies, literature, pop culture inventions, folk art and fine art all have the potential to teach us truths which point us towards the true God. They can also mislead us to worship a piece of creation in a way that is disconnected from our Creator God.

As Christians we are given a spirit of discernment, wisdom embodied within and passed on through evolving tradition, and living, sacred scripture by which to distinguish truth from fiction, the true God from false gods. We do not arrive at truth by ourselves or in a vacuum. We need one another. We need the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We need the Church. As imperfect as it is, the Church contains Christ’s body on earth. Equipped with all these things, not only can we love and enjoy nature, but we are led to the care of the earth rather than its exploitation. So, love nature and talk about how nature, your favorite movies, books, etc. lead you to the love and worship of the true God. By this we will all be enriched.

From one NW nature lover to another,
Pastor Netsie