Remembering Wangari Maathai

— by Andy Wade —

Dr. Wangari Maathai

The planting of trees is the planting of ideas. By starting with the simple act of planting a tree, we give hope to ourselves and to future generations –Wangari Maathai-1940-2011

Today we mourn the loss of a true hero – a hero of the environment, a hero for women’s rights, a hero of poverty reduction, a hero for peace, and a hero of faith. A recipient of numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, Professor Wangari Maathai empowered individuals and communities to take charge and make change for the good of today and tomorrow.

One of her many accomplishments was the launch of The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya in 1977, an organization which has now gone international and whose mission is “to empower communities worldwide to protect the environment and to promote good governance and cultures of peace.” (You can read a full obituary at The Greenbelt Movement website. CNN also has a nice tribute)

In “Heaven is Green”, a Beliefnet interview with Mia MacDonald, Dr. Maathai was asked:

How do you use the Bible in your work?

I read the book of Genesis with people. When God was creating the Earth, every day he would look at what he had done and would say, “And that is good.” So I ask them, “If you look at your land, the way it is decimated, would God look at that and say, ‘It is good?’ If God was to look at your rivers when it is raining and see all the good soil he gave you to plant your seeds in the river disappearing, would he say, ‘This is good?’” I try to make them read the Bible, that book they read every day, with a new understanding and a new vision so they can see the wisdom embedded in the words.

These are pertinent questions for us today, and every day. They should stimulate both repentance and imaginative action. Our Christian faith is deeply rooted in God’s good creation. As those from a liturgical tradition recall every Ash Wednesday, “From dust you were created, to dust you shall return.” We are part of God’s good creation and were given the spiritual duty, an act of worship, to care for every aspect of it. As the interview continues Dr. Maathai is asked:

What is Christianity’s relationship with protection of the environment?

Surely the destruction of the environment is the destruction of God’s creation. This should be a major concern for the Christian faith and for others who share the same heritage of creation. But unfortunately, the way the Bible was translated, we decided we were put on Earth to exploit, to dominate, to subdue nature. We continue to do exactly that. But with the understanding we have now of the linkages between the environment, the way we govern ourselves and our resources, and the way we can live with each other in peace in this world, churches and the faithful should be in the forefront. Theologians and religious leaders need to tell their faithful that they must do something for the environment and give them good examples of what they can do. After all, this creation, this biodiversity, is the creation Genesis talks about in the first book.

Take a moment to watch this video clip featuring Dr. Maathai. Be inspired by her life, her message and her faith. And give thanks for a life well lived – a life of worship through action for all of God’s good creation.

Wangari Maathai, you will be missed, but not forgotten. Thank you for your faithfulness!