31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 3, 2017
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
She was a twenty year old college junior at Vassar college, when in October of 1953, Liz Titus Putnam happened upon an article in Harper’s magazine called “Let’s Close the National Parks”. “The article was written by historian Bernard DeVoto, who argued that America had neglected its most precious landscapes. Beneath his simmering anger was an urgent plea for help. He wrote that Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park, among others, had become ‘slums,’ overrun with tourists hungry for adventure after the war. [DeVoto wrote] of parks with fewer summer rangers than in the 1930’s, but with 12 times the visitors.” (Yankee magazine, May/June 2017, pg 89)
The rangers were working 16 hour days, seven days a week and living in ancient and sub-standard housing. Their morale was deteriorating as fast as the trails and natural beauty of the parks.
Liz Titus Putnam was inspired by the article, and with the help of fellow Vassar students and their geology professor, they created the Student Conservation Corp.
Now known as the Student Conservation Association, the organization has recruited over 80,000 youth, since 1957, to volunteer at national, state, and city parks, clearing trails, building cabins, fixing bridges, restoring wildlife habitats, and doing whatever else needs to be done so that these parks can continue to a place where people can discover God’s creation.
And thank goodness for the Student Conservation Association and for others who volunteer to care for our national parks because if Bernard DeVoto thought they were “overrun slums” in 1953, I cannot imagine what he would say about them now. Last year, as the national park system celebrated their centennial, they also saw record attendance, with 330 million people visiting.
Quiet hiking paths are now seeing non-stop foot traffic; many have to drive right past scenic lookouts because there is no place to park; and the shoulder seasons of spring and fall have become just as filled with tour buses as the summer.
I have mixed feelings about the heavy use of our national parks. On the one hand, it disturbs me to think about how overrun they are or to think they might be so heavily used that they might not be there for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. And on the other hand, I absolutely understand people wanting to see these amazing parks, to experience the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, the magnificence of the Redwoods, the splendor of seeing the sun rise over Cadillac Mountain at Acadia in Maine. Because whether it’s in a national park or in our own backyard, nature, creation is a powerful way we experience God and the holy.
And nature is also a powerful way we experience Jesus Christ, who is the Word, the word through which God created this world. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:1-3)
“And without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:3)
When God created the world, God spoke. God created the world through words, through the Word.
And after God spoke each part of creation into existence, God called it all good. God called us all good.
And God appointed humans to care for God’s creation, to be good stewards of this earth. But not everyone sees the importance of caring for creation. Not even all Christians and people of faith see the importance of caring for creation. I am always amazed to encounter someone who says they take the Bible literally and then see them throw their recyclable can in the trash – if nothing else, you could return it for 5 cents.
Rather than literally, I would rather take the Bible seriously and take seriously our calling to be good stewards, to be caretakers of this earth, of the city, state, and national parks, of the beaches and ocean reefs, of the polar ice caps, and the mountain peaks.
We have been called to be God’s stewards, God’s caretakers of this earth so that others can experience God’s holy presence, can know Jesus Christ, the living Word, can feel the Spirit moving through their lives, when they step out into creation.
We have been called to be God’s stewards, God’s caretakers of this earth, and every time we act to conserve, protect, and cherish the plants, trees, animals and people of this world, we praise and honor God.
Every time, we pause to admire a sunset, marvel at the solar eclipse, enjoy a butterfly’s lilting journey amongst the flowers, we praise and honor God.
Every time, we speak out against those who seek to poison the environment, whether it be drinking water crises like Flint, MI or our national government pulling out of the Paris Agreement, or the increasing practice of fracking for natural gas, with little to no thought as to the environmental impact. Every time, we speak out and act out in support of the environment, we praise and honor God.
Every time we use our rain barrel instead of the hose; every time we buy a sustainable product; every time we keep using the old thing instead of buying the new; every time, we recycle our grocery store bags and even our plastic bread bags, we praise and honor God.
As we enjoy these last days of summer and head into a colorful New England fall, we are surrounded by the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation.
And every time you enjoy a late blooming flower, every time you see a multicolored maple leaf, every time you drink a clean glass of water, I hope you will give thanks for God’s creation and remember your calling to be a good steward, praising and honoring God through our care of God’s creation.