May 18, 2008
With the beautiful images of Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, this seems like a good week to have a heart-to-heart conversation about the stewardship of creation with our congregations. The question is: how do we have this conversation in a manner that can be heard? Although most scientists agree about the damage we are doing to the earth, high-profile political pundits claim that scientists exaggerate our impact on the environment. What are we to believe? Whom are we to believe? Is anyone speaking without an agenda? What impact can we really have on the environment as churches and individuals?
Unfortunately, traditional interpretations of Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 have contributed to a callous and harmful attitude toward nature. The following sentiment is not uncommon in our pews: “God gave us dominion over the earth. It exists to serve our needs. It is ours to use as we see fit. . . Besides God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. This world will pass away. This world is supposed to pass away—the world exists for humankind, not humankind for the world.”
Perhaps we need to help our churches to re-examine what it means to exercise dominion. We should think more about stewardship than mastery over creation. That God giving us dominion over nature meant that we ought not be arrogant. We should exercise our dominion over nature the way God exercises dominion over human beings: lovingly, respectfully and seeking out what is best for the other. Ultimately, our attitude toward creation needs to be one of respect and awe. Rabbi Abraham Benjamin Heschel says that when we lose our capacity for awe we lose our capacity for praise and then we lose our imagination toward God.
It seems then to me that we ought to try to live in harmony with nature. That it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever step on a bug or that we can’t build homes or live here. We belong to the earth, too. But we should try to conserve wherever and however we can and not just rely on our own technological advances to clean up the messes we create. Remember: you can’t ever throw anything away because there is no “away.”
Is God green? Remember God created green. Chief Seattle gave the following speech in 1857. The heart of it sounds much like the sentiment reflected in Psalm 8.
Chief Seattle's Letter
"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.
The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.
If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival. When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?
We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know - there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all."
Ankeny Christian Church