Lacombe pastor Ross Smillie has taken his extensive knowledge of and passion for environmental ethics and penned a new book called Practicing Reverence.
Smillie is minister of St. Andrew’s United Church in Lacombe, and he also teaches environmental ethics and theology through St. Stephen’s College in Edmonton.
“I really believe the way we live and our ability to reshape the way we live, so we preserve a healthy environment for future generations, is probably the greatest moral issue of our time,” he said. “The ways we live are degrading natural systems at a colossal rate. Habitats for species are being turned into places for human consumption. We also have climate change which is a huge issue.”
Back in 1997, he published Cracking the Cover: A Beginner’s Guide to the Bible.
Over the years, Smillie has become increasingly concerned with environmental issues, and he decided it was time to put much of what he teaches his students into book form.
“In an age when environmental issues are becoming more and more prominent and more of a concern, I wanted to explore how our ethics and theology responds to that,” he explains.
The book taps into how ethics, economic systems, technology and religion relate to a ‘good life’, and it offers insight into how the status quo often ignores or discounts practices that are beneficial to the health of the earth.
“It attempts to address the question of how our social practices can better show reverence for the earth, and for the natural systems we depend on,” he said.
“I look at three families of social practices. One is economic practices that have taught us to look at the world as a natural resource or commodity for our consumption. We need to find new ways of thinking economically, and there’s this whole movement called sustainable economics.
Smillie also explores scientific and technological practices.
“The history of science is basically developed with this idea that the world is like a mechanism that we have to reduce to its smallest components and then figure out how to manipulate it and make it work better for us,” he said. “That doesn’t help us understand the complexity of ecosystems and natural systems.
“I propose that we need to be a little bit more humble in our approach to technology, and that we need to find styles of doing science that deal with complexity in a much more helpful way.”
Smillie also write about religious practices in the book, pointing out that many who work in science say the religious community needs to come onboard in efforts to help bring about change. “Religious movements have seen individuals and society be transformed together.
“That’s the kind of thing we need in our day and age. We need to treat the earth, and movements to protect it, as sacred.”
Ultimately, Smillie doesn’t want to leave people with a sense that the tide can’t be turned to a realistic degree at least. He acknowledges that although an individual can’t wield a sizable impact on their own on issues like climate change for example.
However, the power to change things shines through when behaviours change in the big picture. He wraps up the book with a section on the ‘practices of hope’.
“A big theme of the book is hope, and how we nurture our hope,” he said, adding that social practices are the things we do together and shape us as communities and individuals.
“Basically, it’s about submitted ourselves to certain kinds of practices and striving for excellence in those practices. We reshape our character as individuals and as communities.
“I think we have to act in trust that when we do our part, that we’ll find ways of living that will be healthier than we’ve known to this point.”