SCUBA and Kayaks: hands-on tools for caring for creation and disciple making - A podcast with Steve Dresselhaus
For this episode we will be sharing a talk from Steve Dresselhaus. Steve serves as TEAM’s senior director for global ministry with a focus on Latin America. He also serves as TEAM’s strategist for care of creation. Steve was raised in Venezuela where his parents served as career missionaries with TEAM.
Shortly after his marriage to his wife Lois, Steve enrolled in the Seminario Bíblico Rio Grande in preparation for missionary service, serving first in Caracas and then eventually for seventeen years in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, where Steve served as the ministry area leader. In addition to his leadership role, he was involved with the starting of churches, a safe house for abused women and children, and a discipleship oriented ministry using sea kayaks in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.
Steven Spicer and Mike Soderling host this edition of the Creation Care Missions Podcast. Below is the full text of talk that Steve Dresselhaus gave at the Creation Care at the Frontiers of Mission conference.
Introduction: We Need to Define Our Starting Points
I work in La Paz, Mexico. I started a Mexican NGO and we're going to talk about community health. Before we do that, we need to define a few things. We have to set a few starting points. I grew up in South America. I grew up in Venezuela and when I was in early high school, my dad had to make a trip to the Amazon basin to visit some people. And when he got to the airstrip, the pilot came up to him and asked my dad, "Do you know how to read?" My dad goes, "Yeah." So, "We will have you sit in the copilot seat and follow this road map." And, they took off. My dad then was the navigator with a road map. This is in the rainy season. If you understand the rainy season in the tropics in the Amazon basin, everything floods. So the river that my dad was supposed to follow on the road map is not there. It's just a massive lake and before long, they were lost. So the pilot asked one of the pastors in the back of plane, there are four people in the plane. He said, "Does anyone know how to get to the village? I have never been there before." So one of the pastors goes, "I think it's over that way." So the pilot follows the guys arms. And they started running out of fuel and finally the pilot said, "Look, we're going to land wherever we can. The next spot we see, we're going to land." They saw a little village and the buzzed the airstrip to scare the pigs off the airstrip. And my dad saw the person who was supposed to meet him, so my dad says, "We are here." So they landed. Everything was okay. But the problem was, they started their direction following the guys arm. And many times in the creation care movement we're not sure where we're starting from. We know there are problems, we can see a future, but you can't really know the future until you know where you've come from.
Defining “Health” and “Community”
And so we need to get back to the very basics if we're going to talk about community health. And the first thing that we're going to define is what we mean by health. And a simple definition of health is, obtaining and maintaining conditions for optimal intended functionality. The other thing we have to define is community. What is community? That space in which living things impact one another. Now quite often we think of community as the human community or the environmental community or some of the communities. But when we talk about community in our context, I think we have to see the entire big package of what community means. How does community interact with each other?
I live in La Paz. And we're probably the only city in the world that has an issue with whale sharks affecting traffic patterns. Because as the whale shark population blossoms, it's amazing, the whale sharks coming up, that's created a whole tourist infrastructure where people go out to see the whale sharks, which creates traffic jams in the city. So we have the whale shark community affecting the human community. So when we talk about community, I think we should think about the whole big-picture community, not just the human community or what we call the environmental community. And it's working. In Mexico we're seeing tremendous success stories. And if you have the chance, you should read the September 2017 National Geographic. There's an article that will encourage your socks off about the wonderful things that are happening in Mexico, in Baja in particular, where we live. The environmental success stories are very encouraging. In the midst of the problems we still face--yes, they're still there, but we are seeing some great, great progress. So with our definition of health, and our definition of community, what do we need to do? We are going to look at five things in just a few minutes that I think will take us back to the beginning so we can develop good communities with healthy good communities.
Aspect One: Understand and Eliminate Evangelical Gnosticism
And the first thing that we have to do, and once again, this is for the North American context in which we find ourselves, we have to understand and then eliminate evangelical gnosticism. In the book, Gnosticism for Dummies—which may not even exist, I have no idea, but if it did exist—the definition of gnostism would be something like this: revealed spiritual truth is good. Material physical is bad. And we in the evangelical community, without realizing it, have pretty much accepted that as truth. Many people in our country view the world, it's going to be destroyed, it's not good. What's good is the human soul. We've become gnostics in that sense. So we need to get rid of evangelical gnosticism in our country.
Aspect Two: Dichotomy
Another thing we have to get rid of, is we have to understand our Western penchant for dichotomy. We love to divide things up and put them in little boxes. It's hard for us to see the big-picture. For instance, have you ever tried to explain American football to someone of another country? We have four quarters, two halves, and we have 100 yards and 10 yards, we have four downs. But if you run 10 yards, you get another four downs. And you have a three-second something-or-other and five second something, I don't understand it all myself. But we have made such a complicated dichotomous sport of our football. That's who we are as a country. We view nature the same way. Everything has its place and they don't often interrelate. Our food. Our American food. If you go to Asia, or China in particular, food or meals, are all kinds of things all mixed up into one delicious cuisine. What do we Americans eat? Well, last night my wife and I took my in-laws out for dinner. We went to Black Angus. We had our steak, we had our potato, we had our two side dishes, all separate. Everything is separate. There's nothing wrong with that. That's who we are. We divide things up in our country. Our churches—have you thought of how we divide our churches? We have Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Methodist. And we divide ourselves up and we have failed to see ourselves as a community of the whole. Our politics—I am not even going to go there. We know we're divided there. So step two to attain good community is to understand our penchant for dichotomy.
Aspect Three: Unity in Community
Number three. If I were a theologian, which I am not, but if I were, I would declare God to be a very poor mathematician because everything with God comes out to one. One universe. One church. He himself, three in one. Marriage, two becoming one. So God has His passion for unity. God has His passion for community. And I think we understand that. And I don't know if you have noticed, but in the Bible when God created Adam and Eve, He created Adam first. And then He said, "It's not good for man to be alone." So it's later that God created Eve, and it is at that point, after Eve is on the scene, that God says, "This is good." And not only that, it's after Eve is created, and Adam as well, that God's says, "In the image of God created He them." So to have community, we have to understand that it's us together and that we, not as individuals, but we as a group, we as a people in community do represent the image of God.
One more thing: community--It's not just where we live, it's who we live with. And community requires unity among all aspects of life whether it's the physical city we live in and the environment that surrounds us, it's all combined into one, unity. The city I live in right now is being torn apart by drug cartel violence. There's a study recently, I've got the bookmark on the computer, that lists the fifty most dangerous cities in the world for extreme violence. And of the fifty most dangerous cities in the world, three of them are in Baja. Los Cabos is number one. La Paz, where I live, is number five. And Tijuana, just across the border here, is number eight or nine. And so until we get rid of that violence, it's going to affect everything else we do. We can't have community while that's in existence. So we have to understand that to develop healthy community, it incorporates everything involved, not just one or the other, as we typically do. So in our city, until I can walk down the streets at night without the military helicopters flying overhead and around our windows, until I can walk down the street in Las Paz without having convoy after convoy of armed soldiers going by in their Humvees with heavy caliber guns mounted on their roofs, we don't have a sense of community. We have a sense of fear. So we somehow need to help the church get involved in at that level of society.
Aspect Four: Understanding Environmental Degradation
The fourth thing we need to do, is we have to understand where environmental degradation began. And environmental degradation began when Eve took the first thing not needed. God said, "Don't touch that. Don't take that." She looked at that. And the Bible does say that she wanted to become like God, knowing good from evil. But she took the very first thing not needed. And you know what? Nothing has changed. We're still doing that. So the cause of our environmental degradation is selfishness, and it's hoarding, which is exactly what Eve did when she began to hoard. Now to make this really personal, I have to confess to you that I have twenty pounds of hoarding around my waist. It's true. I am taking something not necessary, something that took carbon to make, and I have stored it around my waist. Look at our bank accounts. When you have a savings account. Every dollar in the savings account represents extra consumption somewhere. It represents consumption in the future that we will spend. So a look at what we do with our resources reflects how we view community. If it's for my benefit, it doesn't affect in a positive way, my neighbors. So we need to understand that the unnecessary consumption, whether it's food or oil or anything else, is degradation to the environment and it's impacting the people with whom we live.
Aspect Five: Understanding the Reconciliation of All Things
And the last thing we need to understand, and this is something that I am preaching to the choir here, is we need to understand what it means to see the reconciliation of all things in Colossians. It really does mean all things. And a lot of people think, well the reconciliation, that is my soul—reconciliation in spiritual things—but when we talk about reconciliation in the context [of Colossians] it's creation, it's all things. And what we have failed to understand is that the reconciliation of all things is actually an environmental issue. Have you ever stopped to think that the blood the Jesus shed to save us from all eternity was salty, 98.6 degrees? So even our eternal salvation is dependent on an environmental condition called the blood of Jesus. So we as Christians need to understand these five aspects if we're going to take care of our planet and make it what it should be, to reconcile all things.
Conclusion: Rules vs. Community That Puts Others First
One of the things we must not do is create more rules. Rules don't work; they never will. I grew up in boarding schools in South America. And in the boarding schools, it's a Christian school, we had more rules then you could possibly count. And, of course as a kid, our goal was to break the rules. One of the rules for the girls was they had to have long skirts. This was back in the 70’s okay. So every girl had to go to the assistant principle, a woman, and with every skirt, kneel in front of the vice principal and she would measure every skirt. And they had to be three inches from the floor when kneeling. So if you get a young woman who is 5'11", she's going to come out looking like a nun. You have a short girl, she is going to come up and she's wearing a mini skirt. But both skirts fit the rules. Later on, I became the chairman of the board of that very same school so as the principle violator of the rules, I became the principle enforcer. But I hope the Lord will forgive me for that hypocrisy. But rules aren't going to work, so what we need to do, among ourselves, is create a consciousness, an awareness, that everything we do affects everybody else in the room.
Now one of the reasons we know that rules don't work: a couple years ago we tried the Paris Accord. It was one hundred and ninety-seven countries--I'm not sure how many, but a bunch of countries went to Paris Accord--and they did a lot of good stuff. They made a lot of decisions. They decided so many good things that they were going to try to do to reduce our carbon footprint on the planet. Well I just read this in the November 6, 2017 issue of New York Times. It says, under the Paris deal, each country put forward it's proposal to curtail its greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030. But no major industrialized country is currently on track to fulfill its pledge according new data from Climate Action Tracker. Not the European Union. Not Canada, Not Japan. And not the United States, which under President Trump, is still planning to leave the Paris agreement by 2020. So it's not wrong to try to get together but what we need to do is work at the heart issue because just getting together doesn't create community. Getting together with a common goal, a common purpose, and the willingness to put the other person first, is what we need to do. So we're not against the Paris Accord. It's a wonderful thing, but it's not going to work until there's community where people are putting others first. And that is a solution to our environmental crisis. Thank you very much.