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Steve Bouma-Prediger is professor of religion at Hope College, ecotheologian, and author of For the Beauty of the Earth–among many other books. Here he reflects on examples of refugia in the Bible as well as on the virtues necessary to fulfill our God-given, human responsibility to the earth.

For more background…

Here is Steve’s faculty page at Hope College.

Here are some of Steve’s books on his amazon author page.

Steve’s forthcoming book (Jan. 2020) is called Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic.

Steve is also one of the authors for the Calvin Press project Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care.


Debra Rienstra: Today, I’m talking with Steve Bouma-Prediger, the Leonard and Marjorie Maas professor of Reformed theology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Steve is going to help us ponder some biblical examples of refugia, and we’re going to get into some ecotheology. Hey, Steve. Thanks for talking with me today.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Great to be with you.

DR: So people think that Hope and Calvin are these ferocious rivals, and I think maybe that’s true on basketball days, basketball games, but here I am in your office on Hope’s campus and I’m feeling okay.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Good.

DR: Yeah. Actually, we have a lot of collegiality between Calvin and Hope professors.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: There is a lot more than people realize.

DR: Yeah, the professors get along. I’m not sure about the basketball teams. And we keep looping you into Calvin projects because you’ve done such great work in Reformed theology and ecology. So I wonder if we can consider you an honorary Calvin prof…

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Sure can, yeah.

DR: Great. So let’s talk about your 2001 book published by Baker Academic called For the Beauty of the Earth. It’s such a beautiful book. It’s intended for a broad audience wondering about how the Bible and theological reflection can guide us in caring for the Earth. And it does so many really helpful things–it gives this background, it works through some key scripture passages, it sets forth an ecological theology, as you call it, it presents and analyzes arguments for caring for the earth–it’s this fantastic book. And so I’m just wondering what kind of response you had. I feel like you said everything that needs to be said, so I’m just wondering why…

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Well, it’s been gratifying. I wrote that book on my first sabbatical way back in 2000, 2001. The first edition book is over there. Then they asked for a new edition, and I spent a second sabbatical doing that. And so the revised second edition came out in 2010 and it’s still selling. A number of people, I don’t know who, but, well, some people I do, but people use it in classes. I use it in a couple of my classes–Earth and Ethics, God, Earth, Ethics: Ecological Theology and Ethics.

I wrote it to be a kind of primer introductory book dealing with environmental science at a basic level, but, you know, ecoliteracies–the first chapter: do we know where our water comes from, where our garbage goes, among other things. And then the second chapter is all about ecological degradation–it’s what my students call the thoroughly depressing chapter. With all the charts and graphs and that’s why primarily I was asked to do a revised version: that data had gotten dated the first time around. So I really did a big update on that chapter. And then I asked the question, why are we in this eco-mess? What does the Bible say? Chapter 4, I look at five texts in particular, retranslate them from the Hebrew and Greek. Chapter 5 is theology and ethics. Chapter 6 is virtue ethics, more on that in a minute because of my new book, which I have a copy of…

DR: Great.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: …is a sort of a sequel to For the Beauty of the Earth because it takes that one chapter which was relatively unique back in 2001when For the Beauty first came out and now basically blows it up into a whole book on its own merits. And then, as you say, there’s a chapter, the second to last chapter, where I try to tie everything together. Here are 10 reasons–whether you’re religious or not, Christian or not–10 reasons to be a good earthkeeper, to care for creation.

So because I think the book–I wrote it at like a 12th grade high school level, you know, or freshman, first-year college student level–because of the accessibility of the book and the fact that it covers a lot of territory, a lot of people have used it in class.

DR:  And more should. It’s really helpful. Let’s talk about that word, earthkeeping, which is the subject of your chapter in the Beyond Stewardship book, which a group of us worked on last summer and that’s coming out summer 2019.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: So let’s talk about that word, earthkeeping, this positive, beautiful word that… I’m very persuaded by your argument that that’s a great word for us to use to express the right relationship between human beings and the other parts of earth creation, but now we’re facing this world that’s deeply and even irreparably damaged.

So I’m wondering if even “keeping” is too positive at this point because it–the word keeping, I know it has a Hebrew basis and maybe you’ll tell us about that in a little bit, but it implies maintaining a status quo when what we need, really, is repair and reconciliation and restoration, even just survival.

So I’m wondering if this idea of refugia helps us find an aspect of “keeping” that emphasizes that restoration. In other words, does earthkeeping right now as a practice compel us to become a people of refugia? And if so, what would that mean to you?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: That’s a great question. Earthkeeping is a neologism. It was coined by Loren Wilkinson, Cal DeWitt, a whole group of folks who spent a year at Calvin College back in 1978 or 79, I forget exactly, but the book came out in 1980 with Eerdmans publishing house. And it’s a great word. I’ve loved it since that book first came out. The second edition of that book, Earthkeeping in the Nineties, was published about a dozen years later, and I like it because of its biblical resonance.

It does, in fact, capture, I think, what I call the Chicago cop car verse, Genesis 2:15.

DR: What?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Well, I lived in Chicago for seven years. I smiled every time I saw the side of a Chicago police car because it says “To Serve and Protect” in a city known for its political corruption among other things. Great city, don’t get me wrong. I love Chicago. We were just there a couple weekends ago visiting…

DR: Chicago listeners, we love it.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: But I was… when we moved to Chicago for me to go to grad school–U Chicago–back in 1987, I quickly learned within a month or two from Chicago natives that the motto here is vote early, vote often. Even the dead vote, usually more than once, so what always struck me is this wonderful irony that here in this city known for Al Capone’s legacy and so on, we have police cars that quote Bible verses. And very few people know this. “Serve and Protect” is, I think, the best translation of abad and shamar, the two verbs used in Genesis 2:15: “And the Lord God took the adam, the human, and put the adam in the garden, i.e. the Earth, to abad and shamar, to serve and protect.” Now it usually isn’t translated that way, but that’s what it’s about. Abad is the verbal form. The nominative is ebed, which is slave or servant. Ebed yahweh is a term used hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible, Christian Old Testament, slave of God, servant of God. So we are to serve and protect.

Now to your question. Yeah, do we need also repair work, restoration? Clearly we do, especially given the kind of degradations I outline in Chapter 2 of For the Beauty of the Earth.

Which reminded me, when I looked at that I thought about repair. There’s a wonderful expression in Hebrew. Tikkun olam, you know, repair of the earth, of all things.

DR: Of the universe.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah, of the universe and so there’s, you know, wonderful Jewish tradition there that’s very similar. So yeah, “keeping” doesn’t just mean preserving like pickles in a jar. Cal DeWitt used that metaphor many times.

It’s not preservation as in pickles, but it’s helping the whole world, human and non-human, to flourish. And often these days that means repair work, not just a preservation as in keeping things the same. Because any introduction to environmental science or ecology, you know that the earth is always changing. Change is not a bad thing.

But, what kind of change? Who benefits? And how big is your who–just humans or is it all creatures? So. So earthkeeping…

DR: That’s a good phrase involved with owls, “How big is your who.” 

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah.

DR: To protect the owls.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: So that’s… it’s a great question. And I still argue, as you know from being part of the Beyond Stewardship book, that earthkeeping is a broad enough term to encompass all of those sorts of things.

DR: So I’m wondering if refugia could be, to come underneath it as a kind of category that helps us think about what keeping means when we’re in a state of crisis.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: I wonder about the beautiful Hebrew word shomer, which is related to keeping. Do you know what I’m thinking of? Where…

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Oh, shomer. Yeah.

DR: Yeah, where keeping… shomer is like the noun form, if I’m understanding this correctly, and it’s the word that’s used quite a bit in Psalm 121.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Oh, yeah.

DR: About God watching over.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah.

DR: This idea of keeping as watching over, or it’s even the word used to keep the law.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Mmhmm.

DR: Right? So that keeping is about dwelling with, being with. Yeah, so it’s much richer than the English word…

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Indeed.

DR: To keep.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Well, Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6, “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”

DR: Yes.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: How often have you heard that as a benediction? Many people, and liturgically or any worship… Shamar, yeah, doesn’t mean “pickle you,” right? It doesn’t mean put you in a jar.

DR: One would hope.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Bless you and keep you, barak and shamar. So it’s that same idea of keep… of help you flourish, do what’s needed. Repair work if necessary, preservation work if necessary. So … that’s the sense of keeping I’m trying to get from out of Psalm 121 to be another example.

DR: Beautiful. Let’s think about examples of refugia in the scriptures. Maybe we could start with the Old Testament. So these are moments where God preserves a small remnant as a way of creating a little seed that can then flourish later, that can spread and flourish later. And so I’m thinking maybe first of all of the story of Noah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah, that’s the classic example that comes to mind for me, first comes to mind.

DR: Is the ark a refugium?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah.

DR: And if so, what is it about that story? What can we learn from that story?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Well, I translate that and comment on in For the Beauty of the Earth chapter 4. It’s a wonderful story. Actually, my second book is called Assessing the Ark and it’s a Christian perspective on the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1973 is an example of an ark.

We preserve, try to preserve species in a way that they will flourish in the future, well, the ark story in Genesis 6 through 9 is an early example of that. So bad was the violence of humans, says the text early in chapter 6, that God determines to wipe them off the face of the planet, but he finds a tsaddiq, a righteous man, Noah, and changes his mind. It’s an interesting passage in lots of different ways. God changes his mind because he finds a man of righteousness and justice and mercy, but it’s not just the humans–this isn’t the point I make in the book and with my students–the ark is a refuge for humans and all these other creatures.

And the creatures are to be in the ark in such a way that they would be able to reproduce. That’s the either two by two or seven by seven–the text varies there.

DR: We need little genetic diversity. Also food.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: So the whole point being that God makes provisions for this refuge to be, as you were describing, a kind of microcosm that would withstand the deluge that is to follow. And the pivot point in that whole narrative, chapter 6 or 9, is 8:1 where God sends the wind, and the wind is the ruach. Genesis 1:2.

DR: Of course.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: The ruach of God the Spirit. The wind of God comes and pushes back the water and that’s the pivot point in that whole story, that then this refuge becomes the seedbed, as it were, for the repopulation of a cleansed and purified home planet.

DR: Yeah, so there’s some problems with that…

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Indeed.

DR: That we should probably address, right? So this is… the refugium of the ark comes in a moment of terrible destruction and crisis.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: And then when it’s all over and the seedbed–by the way, I love the Jewish tradition that Mrs. Noah was good with plants, right, and brought along seedlings and seeds. That’s another way in which the ark can be thought of as a kind of mythical representation of refugia.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: A refugium. Anyway, so when it spills out and renews, so to speak, the face of the earth, everything’s not perfect.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: No.

DR: Unfortunately, sin comes along.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah. Well, Noah has a little too much wine or beer or homebrew or whatever. Things go bad pretty soon after that according to the text.

DR: I mean who can blame him, but really.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Going that long in a boat with all those animals, you got to feed them somehow…

DR: And it smells.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: And it smells. Where do you put the poop? Who wouldn’t need a drink or two after all that?

DR: Right, I mean, I guess the point is it’s not really idealism. But it’s a sense that God can work from these remnants, can renew, that there can be regrowth. Life can renew itself.

What are some other Bible stories that make you think about or through which we can explore this idea?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Well, the first ones from the Old Testament in addition to… the first one right away is the Noah story in Genesis, but the other ones… the next one that came to mind were a couple Psalms. I mean, they’re all these nature Psalms. The Psalms are the songbook, the prayer book, the poetry book. They’re almost all poems in Hebrew, and you miss all that in translation. Psalm 104, what I call a symphony of creation psalm, all these animals are mentioned, humans are mentioned–adam–only twice, sort of in passing.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Just part of the ecosystem, or the biosphere. And all these creatures–this is emphasized even more in Psalm 148– they all have their own creaturely way of praising God.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: We’re deaf and dumb to most of that most of the time, but all creatures praise God, maybe not using words like we do, but other ways, so. But this sense that all creation gives praise to God and… again, those psalms often get overlooked. And there are, I don’t know, 15-20 percent of the Psalms have something to do with the natural world.

And all these lament psalms, too, I mean, there are all these different kinds of Psalms that I think people don’t realize, but 104, 148… there are a number of others that immediately come to mind. So they’re not stories in the same way that Noah is a narrative, but they’re biblical texts that speak about the Earth, in some cases being harmed and it’s lament, and in other cases it’s praise and celebration. And it’s all kinds of other creatures giving praise, not just us.

Deuteronomy 4, 5 and 6 comes to mind. You’ve got the 10 best ways to live, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments, of course, but also the Shema, Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one […]. So on, so…

DR: Let’s think about that one a moment because the law was given to the Israelites in the desert.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: So they’ve been extracted

Steve Bouma-Prediger: They’re a moving refuge as it were.

DR: Yeah. Right. Refugium with rough conditions.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: But the idea of separating them–and this continues in the ideas of holiness separation in ancient Israel–the idea of separating them is to create a different form, a different social form to teach these, let’s call them virtues…

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: … And to create once again a kind of group apart that can then be a witness and bless the nations.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: That’s the key part.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: That’s what’s often forgotten. And all the covenant language from Genesis 12 on, throughout Genesis, Exodus to Deuteronomy, etcetera, is you are chosen by God and blessed to be a blessing. The Israelites were not chosen because they were better, purer, holier, but for some strange reason God says, I’m choosing you as a means, a vehicle.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: To bless all the earth

DR: And this involves…

Steve Bouma-Prediger: And of course they get that wrong again and again.

DR: Sure. Don’t we all.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Just read, you know, book of Kings. How many good kings are there?

DR: Or Judges.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: But yeah, but the point is they’re like a human refuge.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Refugium in that sense that they’re the seedbed to be a blessing for all creation, and though they get it wrong, God sticks with them.

DR: Right.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Again and again.

DR: So it’s not about a bunker. It’s not about being hidden.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: It’s about being retrained, so to speak, and then spreading that everywhere to be a blessing.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: And back to Deuteronomy 5 and 6–6 is the Shema, 5 is the Ten Commandments, 4, emphasized in chapter 4, Don’t forget all that you’ve learned while you’ve been a wandering, wayfaring people in the wilderness. Don’t forget when you come to inherit the promised land.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Remember that you, too, were a people who were poor and needy, so therefore be generous and hospitable to migrants, to people, the foreigners among you, the sojourners.

DR: Be the people of refugia.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah, exactly.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: So there’s this interesting thing going on with exile, and you know, then the promised land, and of course the temptation once they enter the land is to say, Hi, we’re here, it’s ours to keep everyone else out, when in fact, there’s this constant reminder. Remember that you, too, were a wandering, wayfaring, sojourning people in the wilderness, so be hospitable to those.

So the litmus test, you know–this is all over and in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible–of how you’re doing as a culture, as a society is not the gross domestic product. Or, you know, the stock exchange, or whatever the equivalents back then were. It’s how are you treating three important groups, right? The widows, the orphans, and the, quote, “sojourners.” Code word for the immigrants, the migrants.

DR: Because they were migrants.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yes. How are you doing? How are those three people, those marginal groups doing–that’s how you judge whether you’ve had a good year or decade or century

DR: It’s not about camels.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah, how many camels.

DR: Or goats? Yeah. What about examples in the New Testament? Such a common theme in reformed theology, that themes from the stories of Israel become the themes that we apply to the church, but what might be some other examples in the New Testament of refugia stories?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Well, lots of things come to mind. You can pick out different parables. I think of Luke 15 as the classic example–the three parables of the Lost culminating with the parable, so-called of the Prodigal Son, but it’s really the Lost Sons plural. Or if you want an even better, more accurate translation, the baccalaureate address I gave at Hope was a sermon on this–the parable of the running father. I’m borrowing from Ken Bailey’s work–extensive anthropologist biblical scholar. It’s not really about the sons, either one. It’s about this incredibly gracious hospitable father who violates all social conventions and runs to both the younger and the old, goes out to the younger and the older son, and says, all that I have is yours. He maybe didn’t realize that, but you’re a beloved son regardless of your wayward ways. Whether it’s the petulant son throwing a tantrum–the older son–or the younger son who’s, you know, supposedly the one the story’s about, no, it’s about that father.

So, I mean that’s a parable that speaks to this idea of Christians being bodies of the church, manifest as a refugium of sorts, wherever you are. Big city, wilderness–geographically, in one sense, it doesn’t matter. We are to be like that running father. So you can think of… I think of parables like that and Jesus’s behavior, but then you’ve got all this…

Well, Matthew 5, this Sermon on the Mount, the first part of it, you know, all the Beatitudes. That’s a classic place where the Christian community sees that as ideals to live up to. Luke 15. The farewell address in John, John 14 through 17.

DR:  Yes.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: “The new command I give you, not that you love your neighbor like yourself, but you love other people the way I love you.” Jesus sort of turns the screws on, ups the ante, if it’s not high enough, saying, love people, other people the way I loved you and all those “I ams,” seven of them, biblical number of perfection, a couple of them show up in the farewell discourse, those chapters in the middle of John and near the end of John: “I am the vine you are the branches.” So, I mean, those aren’t stories, technically, the way that the Noah story…

DR: Not narratives quite the same.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: But those are some gospel texts that come to mind that I think help us, instruct us, on how to be a refuge, a refugium as a Christian community.

DR: So I think two things I’m hearing from our discussion of the scripture, is that the refugium is self-replicating. It expands and then creates a place for others to come in. And also that, when applied to the church, a refugium is not a place where we just wait. We go out…

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: To bring people into that space. A really good reminder. 

Let’s talk about virtues. And this, as you say, began with a wonderful chapter in For the Beauty of the Earth, where you ask the question, well, what kind of people ought we be if we’re going to be in right relationship with the rest of creation?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: And then you posit all these virtues. It’s both beautiful and exhausting what should characterize people of faith. Virtues like–and I’m just giving a tiny sample– there are seven pairs. So self-restraint, humility, wisdom, serenity–it’s this very high calling. And if refugia are micro-countercultures where we learn, maybe unlearn and then learn and relearn how to thrive in God’s good purpose, and then we let that wisdom spill out and spread. So, how can we create refugia where we practice those virtues, where it’s a healthy virtue ecology? So I wonder if you could give us some examples of where and how that actually happens.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: That’s a great question. That chapter, when I wrote it almost 20 years ago now, very little was done in the field of environmental virtue ethics. Much had been done in virtue ethics, a lot of work had been done in environmental, ecological ethics, but not the conjunction of the two, and virtually nothing by Christians at that point.

I’m happy to say more work has been done. There’s a whole field now called environmental virtue ethics–EVE–for short.

DR: Wait a minute. It has an acronym, too?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: It has an acronym to it.

DR: Nice. Okay.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: One sign that the field actually, I guess, has a certain status or has reached a certain point: you have an acronym. And there is in addition to my new book, which will be out early 2020, there is another book by two Christian scholars on Christian ecological or environmental virtue ethics. Actually I did endorsement for the book. When I first got it, I thought, oh no, I’ve been scooped. I was working on my book.

DR: Academic’s nightmare.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah, but fortunately, you know, it’s a very good book, but we’re sort of doing different things. Some things similarly, but different enough that it’s not… I went ahead with my book and, you know, there are some similarities but also…

DR: Now it’s a neighborhood.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Differences. So yeah chapter 6 of For the Beauty on virtues, there were seven pairs, fourteen total, with their corresponding vices. What I’ve done with the new book, Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethics, is focus on eight.

DR: Okay, so we’re down from fourteen to eight.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yes. We are.

DR: Smaller tasks.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Living with amazement and modesty, so wonder and humility–and there’s debate over whether wonder is actually a virtue and I argue that it is, humility of course is a virtue but not for the ancient Greeks–that was a vice for Plato and Aristotle–but it’s a key virtue for Christians, living with strength of mind and discernment, self-control, and wisdom–solid ground there, both two of the four cardinal virtues for Plato and Aristotle–living with respect and care, justice and love–every religion of the world that I’ve studied, those two, they may go by different names, but those two are absolutely pivotal, foundational.

DR: Justice and love.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Justice and love. And living with fortitude and expectation, courage and hope. So, I’ve got all four of Plato and Aristotle’s cardinal virtues, and I’ve got two of the three theological virtues, so-called, faith, hope and love–I don’t talk about faith. The earlier version of this book was longer. I cut some stuff out, including a chapter on faith and some other virtues. Anyway, but we’ve got hope and love and they’re in that particular order, starting with wonder and humility, ending with courage and hope.

In each case I open the chapter with a story, and I end the chapter with a story, usually the story of someone I know, an embodiment of one or the other of those virtues, since moral exemplars figure prominently, whether you’re looking again at ancient Greek and Roman virtue theory, or the Middle Ages and Christian virtue theory, or contemporary virtue theory.

We often strive to embody certain virtues and extinguish certain vices because we see people in our lives, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, coaches, teachers, you know, parents, hopefully, who embody one virtue or another. And we, you know, we say, I need to be more like that person. So in each chapter I give examples of that.

In the last chapter, and this is the main point, the last chapter is called “Digging In: Becoming a Person of Character.” What I do is I simply… I think there are five or six or seven examples of programs and people who…  that cultivate virtues. And I start by talking about Camp Fowler and my friend Kent, and how this Christian summer camp in upstate New York is a camp that cultivates virtues. “Future world and local leaders in training here,” quote-unquote. That’s a sign as you enter the camp.

DR: Nice.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: And I give lots of examples from how they run their kitchen and the vegetarian fare. They have their own garden, and this is on acidic Adirondack soil. It’s not easy to grow food on it. To outdoor adventure programs to no electronic devices, to all kinds of ways that they are, with most campers not realizing it, cultivating certain virtues and trying to extinguish certain vices. I mentioned Little Hawks Preschool here in West Michigan, run by a former student of mine–Travis Williams is the head of the Outdoor Discovery Center in Macatawa Greenway.

They have a preschool program. It’s bursting at the seams with kids, and they’re outdoors most of the time, all year round, including the winter. Stream Schools is another example–that’s a middle school project in Hamilton, Michigan, just near here, also facilitated, organized by the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway.

I talk about my Adirondack May term course and the ways that I very intentionally, again, no electronic devices for the eight days that we’re out backpacking and canoeing. You leave your watches, your smartphones, all that stuff behind. The creation care study program is a study abroad program–Belize and New Zealand, lots of students from Calvin, Hope, and elsewhere have been in that program. I mention some other examples–Loren and Meredith Wilkinson, old friends of mine who live in British Columbia. So the last chapter of this book…

DR: Great.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: … gives lots of different examples of ways that people in their own lives and in their work life have intentionally worked to cultivate certain ecological virtues.

DR: Yeah, so these are virtues in connection with ecology in particular.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: Yeah. So what about obstacles or challenges that we face right now in creating these places of refugia, as people of faith in particular.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: That’s a great question and in thinking about that, I reread the last two chapters in the Beyond Homelessness book that Brian Walsh and I spent ten years writing, was published ten years ago, because we talked about that in terms of modernity and postmodernity. And I think one of the biggest obstacles or challenges in creating refugia is on the one hand, this would be the temptation of modernity to have a kind of bunker mentality.

DR: Yes.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: To isolate yourself, protect yourself from the world. And you know, yeah, you’re a refuge and you know, darn if you going to break down the doors and get us. We’re going to just maintain our purity, our isolation…

DR: Safety.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Safety, hunker down when all chaos breaks loose, you know, at some point whether ecological or cultural or whatever. We’re going to be safe. Kind of the…

DR: And that contains the word “refuse.”

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah.

DR: Which in English, it’s not the same root, but it has that aural connection, right, “to refuse,” and it’s true. There’s a certain amount of that in creating a refugium.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: That’s why your point earlier about a refugium properly understood is… has open doors. Think of Revelation 21, 22, that this New Jerusalem that comes down out of Heaven to Earth has walls, but the doors are always open.

It’s like a cell: there’s a membrane there, but it’s permeable. So there’s a place, but it’s open and hospitable, but that’s… the temptation of modernity is the “hunker down” mentality.

The temptation of postmodernity is that sort of endless mobility, right, that we’re always moving, that we’re homeless, we don’t know what a home is because we’ve never had that experience. And you think that, yeah, there are no boundaries. No barriers. No ways to demarcate this community from some other community. This is why I think about certain Mennonite communities I’ve been a part of are helpful there, because they’re very clear–think about one in Belize, for example, where I used to teach, and I’ve stayed overnight and got a sense of this old order Amish community. They’re very clear about being pacifists, for example, and about not going along with the local government because of their faith when need be. So there’s a boundary there and in a sense, often the postmodern, you know, every, anything goes, people who have no home and there’s no goal for any further home in the future, that that, too, isn’t … that’s not a refuge.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: If there isn’t any sense of, this is a particular community. So that’s sort of the temptation on the other end of the extreme. So, how do we…  the image we use–Brian I use–is sojourners. How are we sojourners? So we have a home but it’s open, hospitable, and the ultimate home is not any home we have here, as much as we invest in getting to know where we are, you know, and being ecoliterate and all that kind of stuff, important as it is, but the home that we look for is that home described in Revelation 21, 22 of God’s New Jerusalem coming from Heaven to Earth, and the Earth being renewed.

So, how do we live as Christian communities, part of a larger thing called the church in such a way that we get to know our home place, including the ecoliteracy I’ve talked about, so we know how to care for it properly but do so in a way that doesn’t have this hunker down, keep everyone else who isn’t like us out mentality.

That’s the challenge. And I see, you know, examples of that concretely in the Christian Reformed churches and RCA, Reformed Church in America, and other denominations–Protestant, Roman Catholic. How do we maintain our distinctiveness and not get sort of washed into some generic something, and yet in a way that is hospitable and open and attractive to people who are homeless–the postmodern nomads we described in our book who would love to find a home, people who provide a sense of meaning and identity and so on.

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: So those, I think, are sort of the extremes of the challenges, how do we carve out that via media, that middle way there, of a community that has identity…

DR: Yeah.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: But is open and welcoming and hospitable.

DR: Yeah, that’s the daily challenge, the daily balance.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: You know, so we live in a culture of increasing homelessness of different kinds, ecological homelessness being one of them. I have an Australian friend who no longer feels at home in his home country because of climate change.

DR: Yeah, that’s true.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: I talked to other people since then–that was some years ago–who were feeling the same thing: I don’t feel at home in my geographic home because things have changed in certain ways.

DR: There are people who are completely losing their geographic home.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah. Right.

DR: Their ancestral home.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right. So how do we provide a refuge in the sense in which you’re talking about? Not a hunker down, escape from the world, but a place where you can be refreshed and renewed, and where we can do together, do the kind of repair work psychologically, sociologically, ecologically that we need to do to feel again at home in the proper sense in our place.

DR: It seems like one of the things we’re discovering here in this conversation is that a refugium has to be particular and rooted.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Right.

DR: Which is difficult when our places are changing and more people are going to have to be more nomadic.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah.

DR: Because they’re losing the places where they’re rooted. So they need to find other places, and those places need to be provided.

What are your places of refugia right now?

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Lake Tenaya, the great Native American chief, that’s a lake named after him. I got to camp there. I was helping a friend from California teach a wilderness course for eight days and then tacked on a four-day solo trip, so I chose Yosemite because I really don’t know it very well, even though we lived in California for four years, but that’s just one example. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota is a kind of refuge place for me, where I go to commune with the beavers and the bears and the moose. Don’t hardly ever see moose or a bear up there. I don’t anyway.

But that’s sort of the luxury of someone who can take the time and money to do those kinds of things. For me, West Michigan has become a kind of refuge. We have a wonderful larger community. Me and my family are part of a group now for, I don’t know, fifteen, almost eighteen years, of eight different families in the core city that can raise our kids together.

And being at a place now at Hope for twenty-five years, and lots of good friends and good–Wendell Berry, I think gets it right. There’s no particular place. I mean some people are city dwellers. They love cities. I lived in big cities for thirteen years–Toronto, Los Angeles, Chicago. Other people, after a day in a big city they just want to go back to some rural place or suburban place. Berry’s point is, it doesn’t really matter. Wherever you are, simply dig in. Get to know it–the people, the animals, the trees, whatever, and put down roots and make it a place, a home place. It could be Brooklyn, where my oldest daughter lives, Brooklyn, New York. Could be Holland, Michigan. Could be any part of the world.

DR: That’s where the repair begins. Where you are.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Yeah. Start repairing the world where you are. And it could be anywhere.

DR: I’m so grateful for you talking with me today and so grateful for your deep and beautiful biblical fluency, your theological wisdom, for all the work that you’ve done that’s so important.

I would commend your books to listeners and… just grateful to be in conversation with you today. Thank you.

Steve Bouma-Prediger: Thank you very much.

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