When I get going on food and gardening topics, it’s hard to reign me in. I’m often asked for book/movie/blog recommendations to learn more on these topics (or maybe to shut me up?), so I thought I would create a little reoccurring category here on the Grace Garden blog on recommended reading and/or viewing. Feel free to submit your own recommendations (please do!).

Bill McKibben is one of the few writers whose books I grab as soon as they hit the shelves. The Bill McKibben Reader is a wonderful introduction to his work. For further reading from McKibben, I would recommend The End of Nature, Deep Economy, and Eaarth. Be sure to check out the organization he founded to combat climate change on a global level: 350.org.

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Bill McKibben is and has been the leading voice calling for action to combat climate change for nearly three decades.  His first book, The End of Nature, was the Silent Springs of our generation.  McKibben has devoted his life to raising awareness of the global warming issue and, during that time, has used his journalistic talent to write moving and convincing essays that deepen the environmental discussion.  The Bill McKibben Reader collects the best of the essays over the span of McKibben’s career.

McKibben is famous for his global warming activism, but, at heart, he seems to me a nature writer.  His intense love of the natural world around him, and specifically for his home in the Adirondack mountains, permeates every piece in this collection.  He also often contemplates what it means to limit ourselves willingly, before we’re forced to do so, and his writing forces the reader to ask many of the same questions McKibben has already asked himself.

I’ve read McKibben over the years, just in brief snippets here and there, so I was surprised, in reading The Reader that McKibben is a practicing Christian – a self-proclaimed Sunday school teacher.  Echoing Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne or Jim Wallis in his piece in the August 2005 edition of Harper’s titled “The Christian Paradox,” McKibben writes, “How nice it would be if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we had to share.  How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies.”  For McKibben, his Christian worldview informs his advocacy on behalf of the environment.  His hope is that American Christianity embrace the opportunity to “rescue itself from the smothering embrace of a culture fixated on economic growth, on individual abundance.  A new chance to emerge as the countercultural force that the Gospels clearly envisioned.”

In reflecting on the pieces in this collection, I’m reminded again of how God connects all things together.  The issues that we should care about as Christians don’t belong in separate, black-and-white buckets.  Rather, they’re intrinsically connected.  Christ calls us to care for the poor and marginalized of our society.  Not only does that mean providing them with food and shelter, it also means confronting the systems of injustice that may have led to their destitution, it means limiting our consumption so that there is enough to go around, it means defining progress differently.  McKibben’s essays helped me to see more clearly the interconnectedness of all things, and it helped me to recognize how my choices impact those in my community and my future children’s community.

The Bill McKibben Reader is an especially salient read during the current economic times.  Economists, politicians, professors, analysts and executives are all arguing over what we need to do to confront this financial crisis.  While I won’t claim to know enough about the situation to make broad judgments about what should and should not be done, I do think that some of those “experts” reading a little McKibben would be a good start.  McKibben’s answer, evidenced in his writing throughout his career, would be to discuss and contemplate what we should not be doing, rather than arguing over what “must” be done.  McKibben would steer the conversation toward talking about what we should be sacrificing as individuals and as a nation in light of the financial and environmental crisis.  McKibben would remind us that our materialistic, consumer-obsessed culture could not go on forever and that we need to return to the values of family, faith and community in order to save ourselves and one another.

Bill McKibben is one of the leading environmental voices of our time, but he is also a prophet speaking to the excesses of our society and the ramifications of our actions – as individuals, communities, and nations.

Review originally published at the Burnside Writers Collective.

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