“I’m a vegetarian.”
The words bounced and echoed across the chasm of my stunned silence. My older brother and personal hero had just returned from a semester abroad in New Zealand with the Creation Care Studies Program studying at the intersection of scripture, theology, ecology, and biology and had come back completely transformed. Now he was home, we were reunited, and here he was telling me that he was now a unicorn. At least, for all the sense it made to my 17-year-old ears to choose to be vegetarian, he might as well have.
See, I didn’t know any vegetarians. At least, I didn’t think I did. In my mind’s eye, I saw a vague group of radicals who passed their time throwing blood on fur coats, hugging trees, and weaving hemp friendship bracelets over vegan pizza. Now I was presented with a painful choice: either lump my brother in with this imagined (but no less real to me) group of people radically different from me, or suspend my assumptions and hear him out.
By the grace of God, I chose the latter. And my life has never been the same.
My siblings and I grew up in a beautiful, loving, committed Christian home. I knew the names Moses and Jesus before Cinderella and Snow White. Songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” were sung over me countless times and are the first to spring to my lips these days as I rock my own infant son to sleep. Church Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Christian summer camp were forming me from the very beginning, putting flesh on the baptismal vows spoken over me by the family of believers before I ever even knew it. Teaching me to love Jesus, to strive after his kingdom of justice and peace, to pay attention to my neighbor and to fight for her ability to flourish and thrive.
Yet for all the faithful formation, there was a gap. Loving Jesus rarely included taking actions to love the world created by, through, and for him (Colossians 1:16). Striving after justice and peace never meant pursuing justice or peace for nonhumans. The flourishing of my neighbors was separated from the flourishing of the creation upon which my neighbors and I depend for our very lives.
The dots were disconnected.
My brother’s experience and his ability to share it with me began to connect some of them. Other experiences began to connect even more of them: classes, books, conversations, and lectures at Calvin University began to help me catch a glimpse of the big, scriptural story of God’s love and concern for the world, of our call to share in that love by serving and protecting creation, and of God’s ultimate purposes for the created world of renewal and consummation.
Service-learning trips to West Virginia put me in the living rooms of mothers whose daughters were dying of ovarian cancer due to groundwater pollution from nearby mining operations. It introduced me to nuns serving their poverty-wracked community who could only shower every couple of days with the rain they collected and purified off of their roof because the coal company nearby had contaminated their aquifer and rendered their well useless. It taught me in visceral terms that earth-care equals people-care.
The flourishing of my neighbors was separated from the flourishing of the creation upon which my neighbors and I depend for our very lives.
Working as a young professional at the Office of Social Justice for the Christian Reformed Church gave me a front row seat to the ways that the church and those who served it were striving everyday to love God and their neighbors by fighting for policies that made water safer to drink, air safer to breathe, and the climate more stable for current and future generations.
The dots were connecting with dizzying speed, and it was exciting. It was also disorienting. My parents and immediate family were very supportive of these new connections, but others were less so. High school friends became distant after I began to be more vocal on social media, deeming me “liberal” or “too political.” Members of my home church began picking fights with me online, questioning my faith.
That’s when I found Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (Y.E.C.A.). I was at a conference of other Christians in the creation care and climate advocacy space when I met Ben Lowe, Y.E.C.A. founder, who told me about this new experiment they had just launched. A space for young people like me, who grew up with disconnected dots, striving to bring their faith to bear on the issue of climate change in the public square for the sake of the common good.
It was a community of young people raised in the church who desired to see the church’s witness enhanced by bold climate action rather than diminished by embarrassed silence.
These were young Christians who bore remarkably similar stories of pain, rejection, and isolation from their faith communities because of their climate advocacy yet who still longed to make a difference for God’s world precisely because of their Christian faith, not in spite of it.
Over dinner with Ben, I committed on the spot to join the national steering committee. Three years later, I transitioned into his job. As national organizer and spokesperson, my story of how God connected the dots for me shapes how I approach our own work of education and advocacy. It keeps me curious about the stories of the thousands of young Christians I meet every year on college campuses, in church basements, over coffee—curious about how the Holy Spirit has each of them on their own journeys of awareness, understanding, and action.
Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that the heart of this big story we’re all caught up in? There’s a world full of questions and disconnected dots, and a patient God of grace connecting them as he draws us closer to himself in order to turn around and send us back out for the sake of his glory and his kingdom.