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Planted: Book Review

I distinctly remember the first time I heard about the work of A Rocha, a Christian conservation and stewardship organization that began in Portugal through the work of Peter and Miranda Harris, and has since branched out around the world.  I was sitting in a first year Christian Thought and Culture class at Regent College in 2005 and Peter Harris was lecturing on creation care.  I had grown up on a farm around animals and fields, so I knew where food come from and was aware of some of the gritty realities of life far from the city.  My parents had done their best to instill a love for creation in their children, hauling us off to the mountains periodically for hikes and camping trips.  I spent a fair amount of time outdoors as a kid, and regularly heard about the heavens declaring the glory of God in church.  And yet, prior to that first lecture by Peter Harris at Regent College, I’m not sure I ever made the explicit connection between created world and the life of faith.  I had never thought of stewardship and consumption and food choices as inextricably linked to the faith that I professed.

In Planted, Leah Kostamo tells the story of A Rocha’s beginnings in Canada and offers a compelling vision of a faith that is truly holistic in nature .  And I do mean, the story, for this is no dry apologia for embracing creation care as an imperative of faith.  Kostamo is a storyteller and this book is full of stories.  We learn of A Rocha’s beginnings, of Leah and her husband Markku’s tentative, fear-filled, faith-soaked first steps in getting the conservation and education centre off the ground in the Vancouver area.  We hear humorous stories about the interns who would spend time at the centre over the years.  We hear about hilarious first steps in the realm of animal husbandry and food preparation experiments gone awry.  Kostamo educates her readers throughout the book on all kinds of issues related to caring for creation as an expression of faith, but the medium through which she does this is through stories—stories that locate her squarely in the category of those who are learning and growing and discovering along the way, those who make mistakes but keep on trying.

Perhaps the most engaging aspect of Planted is Kostamo’s winsome and disarming tone.  She expresses her views on everything from factory farms to the ethics of eating meat to the disconnected and consumeristic nature of modern life to climate change to the nature of stewardship and human uniqueness to the proper scope of evangelism with both conviction and clarity, but she does so in a way that always invites further conversation rather than closing it down.  Too frequently, conversations around the ethics of how we live in the world and relate to creation can be polarizing and divisive.  Too often, enthusiastic proponents (wherever they stand on these matters) can be overbearing and judgmental.  This is not that kind of book, and Kostamo is not that kind of advocate.  She simply tells her story and invites her readers to come and see for themselves.

Near the beginning and the end of Planted, Kostamo quotes the well-known Christian writer, professor, farmer, and environmental advocate Wendell Berry:

Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.

To embrace the lifestyle that Kostamo has embraced and is advocating in Planted is to swim against the stream.  All around us are apocalyptic warnings about the state of the planet, about our abuse of the world, about a human race blithely blundering along becoming increasingly ignorant of our connection to the created world, and increasingly irresponsible toward the nonhuman creation.  And yet, Kostamo’s life and work is clearly characterized by great joy—joy at the wonder and beauty of creation, joy in response to simple gifts of food and friendship and hospitality, joy at the privilege of being allowed to attend to the beauty and diversity of the world that God has made.  Her joy is infectious.  Even in the face of the facts.

My favourite story from Planted is of an intern who visited the A Rocha centre for a short time.  This particular girl evidently enjoyed a very intimate relationship with God and was fond of speaking in very familiar terms about what God told her.  Her manner of talking about God didn’t always make people around her comfortable (she was kind of a religious “whacko”).  One day, this young woman went out convinced that a “big surprise” was in store for her that day, for God had told her to expect one.  Kostamo (and others, no doubt) were somewhat skeptical, but later on that day, the girl came back excitedly carrying a bucket that contained a very rare fish called the “Salish Sucker.”  The discovery of this fish brought reputation and prestige (and funding!) to A Rocha.  A big surprise, indeed.

Kostamo reflects on this experience:

To assume that God cares about a sucker fish is weird. Sure, I believe, as that old song goes, that “His eye is on the sparrow.” And when it comes to endangered species I am easily convinced that his eye is on the Panda, and the Sumatran Tiger, and even the Vancouver Island Marmot. But on the Salish Sucker? A bottom-feeding, wide-mouthed fish with big lips? God’s eye is on such an ignoble, unattractive creature? That’s weird.

And so I’m left with the question, who’s the whacko? Maybe God’s the whacko—a God who risks his reputation to earnest interns and middle-aged contemplatives. A God who fixes his eye of the humble, the overlooked, the ugly. A God whose eye is on the Sucker.

Maybe God’s the whacko.  I love it.  Yes, God would have to be a whacko to entrust all of this wild beauty to such poorly-equipped and conflicted stewards as us.  But he has done so.  And Leah Kostamo has written a lovely book to steer us down better paths on the journey.

I warmly recommend Planted to anyone looking to learn more about the origins of A Rocha here in Canada or about how reverential care for God’s good earth can be a joyful expression of committed Christian faith.

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I received a copy of Planted from Jelly Marketing in exchange for my honest review.

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