At first, Christian landscaping might sound like another form of consumer Christianity. You know, the subculture that offers a Christian variant of everything secular. Music, books, movies, and clothing are a few examples. With landscaping, I see rock features highlighting an empty tomb or three crosses on top of a small hill. For the ambitious, a water feature with carefully placed translucent pads so you can reenact Jesus walking on the water.
But that’s not what I mean by Christian landscaping. Instead, I suggest a faith in the God of the Bible that shapes all of life … including how we landscape and care for the ground surrounding our homes, churches, schools, and businesses. Never thought of it that way before? Honestly, I hadn’t thought either. Then, a couple years ago, a church I used to work had the opportunity to landscape their property.
When the discussion first started, I suggested we develop a theology of landscaping. Some looked at me with confusion, others literally laughed out loud at the perceived absurdity of the idea. But when I rephrased the idea as sort out how our faith informs the use of our “dirt” assets, interest seemed to grow.
The remainder of this post takes the thoughts I developed then, expands on them, and offers thoughts for application beyond churches.
From the moment of the Fall, God has been on a mission to pursue humanity and woo people back into his arms. It’s a journey that takes divinity to a Roman cross and gives us new ways to be human. However, as God pursues, humanity runs. Sin leaves us naked and ashamed, fleeing from God and hiding, only coming out when we think we’re suitably covered by various leaves.
How can landscaping communicate God as one who loves people? As one who invites? As one who wants people to drop their leaves and come to him as they are … without shame? How can landscaping invite connection?
When it comes to more public spaces like a church, it seems a level of informality or benches that beckon people to visit might be in order. In a private home, it could mean making the front yard a central gathering place for the family and being intentional about interacting with others in or walking through the neighborhood.
While God’s pursuit of humanity transcends time and space, God always comes to us in time and space. He’s a God of presence and place. He’s the God who becomes incarnate and speaks locally. The Church also transcends time and space, but as God’s witnesses, we are incarnate. We step into neighborhoods, take up addresses, and speak the vernacular.
To this end, how can property convey that we lovingly embrace where we are and the people who are here with us?
A couple thoughts include gardens where portions of the yield go to neighbors or local organizations that feed people in need. Another thought is focusing on indigenous plants that will often stand out in a world of imported grasses.
When God put Adam in the garden, he told him to tend and care for it (Genesis 2:15). With the Fall, tending and caring became difficult, but the call to care for the creation remains.
How can we care for the creation that we’ve been placed as stewards over? For those who live in dryer climates, how can we limit our use of water? In seasonal climates, how do we use landscaping to help keep our buildings cool in summer, and allow them to absorb the sun in winter, cutting down on our use of natural resources for heating and cooling?
Here the placement of trees and the selection of indigenous plants can aid in creating space that reflects values.
What’s missing from these introductory thoughts on Christian landscaping? What other values should be considered? Please share in the comments below.
When the time comes to take on your next project, whether you plan to do it yourself or hire someone, a landscape architect can take your values and translate them into physical terrain.