RIGHT NOW AS I begin writing the basic draft of this book in mid-December 2007, two feet from where I sit snowflakes float, spiral, and alight on the other side of the glass. Each snowflake is a wondrous, six-pointed, never-before-birthed, masterpiece of art. Nature outside my window is home, in the same way that for Jesus the hills of Nazareth, Yam Kinneret (Aramaic for the Sea of Galilee), and wilderness were home. Yam is the name of the Canaanite water deity, and Kinneret refers to the harp-like sounds of the water.

As I type on my computer, fifty yards away and presiding over me are two giant white pines, their bundles of five needles swaddled with snow. Each of these magnificent, towering giants reminds me of the symbolic Tree of Life that represents the whole Earth Community. I sit writing on Spirit Island, so named by the Ojibway Native Americans until European-Americans renamed it Madeline Island. Spirit Island is two miles off-shore from Bayfield, Wisconsin, in Lake Superior. In the western sky, I see the sliver of a new moon, named “Long Nights Moon” by the Ojibway.

TYPING AMIDST THE wintry environment of Mother Earth, I reflect on the central question addressed within this book:

What would Jesus do to spur today’s green revolution?

I also reflect on the stunning earthiness of Jesus. Do you know what Jesus did that was green in his day? What would Jesus do that is green in our time? In seeking to answer these questions, I have decided that there are at least three reasons for writing a book about this search.

First, there is a scientific consensus that inaction about unsustainable living by our species will cause an ecological holocaust.

  • The death and dislocation of millions in lowlands and flooded watersheds.
  • Drought and starvation.
  • Wildfires.
  • The extinction of half the species on Earth.
  • Waves of refugees.
  • Wars over resources.

Second, there is an emerging green revolution to reduce the odds of such a holocaust and to revive the ancient human tradition of sustainability.

Third, there is the opportunity, for the first time in the history of Christianity, to recognize that Jesus is a mentor for a green insurgency. To my knowledge, no one has written a book linking Jesus to sustainability. It is past time for us, with a green heart, to examine an overlooked dimension of the Christian tradition.

People in the village of Nazareth, and those who joined the itinerant group led by Jesus, lived in a green way. These folks made incredibly fewer artifacts and products than Americans do today. Nazareth practiced mostly a barter economy with little use of money. Living close to the Earth, the people of Nazareth built their houses of fieldstones or lived in caves. Energy came from the sun, from human and animal muscle, and from olives that provided oil for lamps.

Prior to and during his ministry, Jesus spent considerable time meditating in the eco-diverse wilderness areas of Galilee. He encouraged sharing food, clothing, and money. Rabbi Jesus emphasized traits that we would say today have a low carbon footprint. I frequently identify Jesus as Rabbi, meaning teacher, the most frequent form of address for him in the gospels.

The teaching and lifestyle of Jesus are compatible with the following ideas that summarize sustainability. To act sustainably we meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future members of Earth Community to meet their needs. We slow down and stop using Earth’s resources faster than Earth can replenish them. We are made for Earth Community. Earth Community is not made for us.

HOW HAS MY LIFE story prepared me to write this book?

My earliest training about Jesus did not call attention to him as a model for sustainability. In the 1930s and 1940s, my father was pastor first of an evangelical Missionary Church Association congregation in northeast Ohio and then of another congregation in the upper San Joaquin Valley of California where our family moved in 1938. Our focus upon the Bible and personal salvation was serious and paramount, but it did not exclude an occasional attempt at biblical whimsy.

“When is the first mention of baseball in the Bible?”

“Uh. I give up. When?”

“In the ‘big’ inning. Gen. 1:1.”

The dramatic story of beginnings in Genesis, featuring God and Earth, caught my farm boy imagination. Earth appears in the story, I now know, over twenty times, often as an actor. “Let the earth bring forth grass and the fruit tree. Let the earth bring forth cattle” (Gen. 1:11, 24, KJV).

In retrospect, my youth, marked by no child left inside, had a strong green character. Dirt on every surface of my body signified normality. I read books in a top crook of a walnut tree, immersed in highly flavored whiffs. I explored miles around our house. I swam in an irrigation canal, roller-skated, and biked. I built tree house castles, constructed underground shelters, forked alfalfa, and somersaulted in leaps from a homemade diving board at the top of the barn loft into the sweet hay. My brother, Noel, and I, with hands on two teats on each side of our cow Bossie, pointed milk sprays underneath at each other.

Kid paradise was shoeless and exuberantly physical. Both my male and female friends played tackle football without gear in an empty lot and didn’t let a concussion stop us from playing. I wrestled with Noel in poison oak, and broke out with blotched, itchy skin from my scalp to my feet. Would I need a body amputation?

During the Great Depression our family did not throw things away. My mother’s mantra was “Darn it,” until nothing existed in a sock except darn. My clothes were hand-me-downs from church families and relatives.

We raised our own food, including rabbits. Regular church potlucks allowed more oatmeal cookies and pieces of rhubarb pie than in typical rations at home. Mother set up a card table and a meal for the homeless in the back yard. We didn’t eat out in a restaurant. Daddy, at a low point, made three dollars a week.

In those childhood days, I unknowingly lived more sustainably than I have at any time since.