EarthBound: Created + Called to Care for Creation, DVD. Directed by Hal and Kevin Dragseth (St. Paul: Seraphim Communications, 2009) 158 min., with Facilitators Guide on CD-ROM. $89.95.
Lutheran video resources for lifelong learning have made great strides in terms of production value in recent years. For those content with a lecture caught on tape or an individual scholar talking from a chair, there are still plenty of those options. But for those who prefer a sleeker presentation, closer to a PBS special, EarthBound: Created + Called to Care for Creation is a good place to start.
Written, directed, and edited by father-and-son team Hal and Kevin Dragseth and underwritten by a host of collaborating Lutheran institutions, this high-definition DVD series is made of up six twenty-five minute episodes that neatly weave together expert commentary, local stewardship stories, and serene images of the natural world, into a tapestry of what it means to be bound, with all our fellow creatures and God’s own self, to the earth. David Rhoads, Professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), and Megan Torgerson, Pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota, serve as hosts, and an impressive team of scholars, including Walter Brueggemann, Larry Rasmussen, Barbara Rossing, Terrence Fretheim, and Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, are assembled to contribute to the cause. If an earlier, related Dragseth project, Down + Out: Where Grace Takes You, featured a disproportionate number of Minnesota-based theologians, mostly from Luther Seminary (Seraphim Communications is based out of St. Paul), some will be glad to find EarthBound spotlighting a number of voices from LSTC, one of the major funders of the project and home to the online resource Web of Creation, directed by Rhoads.
Besides its stylistic resemblance (even down to the episode titles) to Down + Out, EarthBound picks up very naturally from that earlier series — which explored the twin pillars of Lutheran theology, justification and vocation — by placing our responsibility as earth-keepers squarely within the Lutheran doctrine of vocation. (Indeed, one fruitful option would be to offer both of these series back-to-back.) Lest anyone erroneously believe that human beings can be earth-savers instead of earth-keepers, Episode 1, “Created/Called,” provides the requisite warnings against works-righteousness — often manifested, in this arena, as a “greener than thou” attitude — and identifies creation care as a fundamental human calling which Christians undertake out of freedom (although a repeated reference to “ethical grace” — “the ability to see wrong and be motivated to undo it” — may agitate some Lutherans who identify a category mistake).
The succeeding episodes are each organized around a key contrast. “Here/there,” which reorients the Christian vision of the future from primarily otherworldly to this-worldly in character, and “Domination/Dominion,” which describes the human calling to steward the earth not as power over but rather grounded in the servant-lordship of Jesus, are the most theologically incisive. “Me/We” and “Now/Forever” are somewhat more expansive, examining, respectively, the tensions between Western individualism and ecological interdependence, and between short-term gratification and long-term sharing of the earth with future generations. The final episode “Enough/Too Much,” forms an excellent and inspiring springboard into a more sustainable, simple, and hopeful way of life, grounded in faith in God the abundant Provider.
A single critical comment: even as there is a nice clarity to these different voices being streamed together to communicate a unified message, in some cases, it would have been preferable to leave some of the questions more open-ended. For example, Episode 2 works with a contrast between pantheism (all is God), clearly identified as something Christians are “right to be wary of,” and panentheism (all is in God and God is in all), which is presented as orthodoxy and Luther’s own position — case closed. While those more versed in contemporary theology will know that panentheism has been “trending up” in recent decades, it was surprising and a bit troubling to find this presented as the consensus position of what Lutherans teach (the term itself derives from philosophy and is only a couple hundred years old). It would have been far more interesting and representative of the tradition to lift up some biblical texts and other voices from the past that emphasize the Creator’s distinctness (not absence or distance) from the creation, as in classical theism, over against those, for instance, in process thought, who favor more strongly the interpenetration of the divine and material reality — and then let people hash out what is at stake in that debate. EarthBound, however, for all its many experts, never really departs from speaking with one voice; its approach is more geared toward providing correctives to popular “misunderstandings” than it is opening up debate.
EarthBound will work best in a classroom kind of setting, with a facilitator who is familiar with the terminology and capable of clarifying some of the more difficult concepts the episodes raise. Some laypeople will find the material still (ironically) over their heads, since, presentation aside, the actual level of discourse remains rather elevated (for instance, when Rossing drops the word neo-Platonism or Rasmussen explains the fallout of the Cartesian dichotomy between a knowing subject and a passive object). And, of course, not everyone will find this level of theory necessary to spring them into action for what they already know to be right. On the whole, however, adult learners will find EarthBound stimulating, consistently engaging, and highly persuasive. For those who are still skeptical of the recent explosion of environmental concern or who hold attachments to the “domination” paradigm of the human/nature relationship or a gospel of salvation by “evacuation,” EarthBound can help explain how creation care actually is Christian. For the many who have accepted, along with the broader culture, that “going green” is an obvious and urgent good, EarthBound can help provide biblical and theological grounding to undergird these convictions.
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