We take the earth and its cycles for granted, until something out of the ordinary occurs. The heavy hand of two Category four hurricanes hitting the United States in the space of three weeks, and now the devastation of Hurricane Maria adding to the woes of those in the Caribbean, is cause to stop and think about our changing climate . . . our rising and warming oceans. Only a few years ago the idea of global warming was just a debatable question in academic circles. All too rapidly, our climate is changing. Signs of that change are most apparent in the arctic where the permafrost is thawing, glaciers rapidly shrinking and entire villages being consumed by the sea. Polar bears are losing their habitat. Meanwhile, in Florida the city of Miami experiences flooding monthly when the moon pulls strongest on the tides. Many scientists believe that we are quickly coming to a place of where the course will be set irreversibly.
The issue is one that goes beyond political and national boundaries. All of us are in this together. Anwar Fazal expresses this so well in his poem.
“We all drink from one water
We all breathe from one air
We rise from one ocean
And we live under one sky
We are one
The new born baby cries the same
The laughter of children is universal
Everyone’s blood is red
And our hearts beat the same song
We are one
We are all bothers and sisters
Only one family, only one earth
Together we live
And together we die
Remember – We are one
Remember – We are one
Peace be on you
Brothers and Sisters
Peace be on you.”
Anwar Fazal, From Prayers for a Thousand Years Blessings and Expressions of Hope for the New Millennium By Elizabeth Roberts, Elias Amidon
The scripture tells us that we are caretakers of the earth. We have a responsibility to care for this world that God has entrusted to our keeping. We are reminded that “The earth is the Lords” and not ours to abuse or misuse. Our Christian faith teaches us that whatever we do to the least of the worlds citizens for good or ill, we also do to Christ. And for those of us who have received much, much is required. If we fail in this, future generations won’t ask about our political loyalties but wonder how we could have so denied the evidence and the prophetic words from the worlds scientists. They will wonder how we could have allowed an environmental catastrophe to happen. Our actions or inactions will have consequences which will outlast our lives. Future generations, including our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live out the repercussions of our decisions. What kind of world do we want our distant relatives to inhabit? What might God be asking of each of us to make that a reality? In our prayerful searching, may God guide our thoughts and direct our actions.
Melting Glacier at Hurricane Ridge in Washington’s Olympic National Park
These have been challenging times for those of us who are concerned about environmental issues. Whether it is President Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris Accord, or the removal of pages of data about Climate Change from national web sites. I am deeply troubled by the anti-science attitude of our present Administration. Recently the Press Secretary for the Interior Department refused to allow the Park Superintendent at Glacier National Park meet with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg out of fear that Zuckerberg would get a picture of the park superintendent with a melting glacier in the background. Denying reality is not helping any of us. Ridiculing the science of climate change isn’t going to protect our shores against rising oceans.
On his approach to Jerusalem, Jesus must have been thinking of the way people he knew and loved were ignoring the warnings of those who feared the destruction of the Holy City. We read in the gospel of Matthew Jesus’s cry, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate.” – Matthew 23:37-38 These words are traditionally read around Palm Sunday, but have more than one meaning. Jesus was referring not only to his death and rejection by the people, but the destruction of Jerusalem itself. Jerusalem was looking for a savior that would restore the city to its former glory. Jesus knew that if they continued on that path, only destruction and devastation would await the city and its people. In 70 AD, after uprisings unleashed the wrath of Rome, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. People who didn’t flee were slaughtered. The temple was obliterated. Jesus wept over a city he knew was making decisions that would only bring destruction, grief and sorrow.
We are faced with a similar decision. Will we listen to the prophets God is sending us about the danger the earth is in or will we persecute them instead? Today’s prophets are mocked by Climate Change deniers as they warn us of the dangers of Climate Change, speeded by our use of fossil fuels. Skepticism has gotten twisted into a warped religious belief that recognizing and acknowledging climate change caused by people is somehow un-Christian. It’s hard for me to comprehend the logic of that reasoning. This strange philosophy thinks that if there is a real problem, God will save us from environmental damage we do, because that is what God does. Most often though, God acts through us. In other moments, deep challenges have been times when people have come together looking for solutions. Scientists discovered cures for deadly diseases. Nations were born. Life saving procedures were discovered and perfected.
God must weep for us in our foolishness when we act as if the scientists God has raised up, to show us what we need to change, are mocked. God must groan over us when we blindly assume it doesn’t matter what we do. Climate science is not an opinion to be decided by our political bent, but a conclusion based on rigorous studies. God made us stewards of the earth for a purpose – not to destroy the earth but to care for it. God gave us minds so we would search for the truth. God sends us prophets so we will pay attention to their wisdom. God gave us an intellect to use. Our role as people of faith is to listen, to respond as we able to and set a direction that will be healing to our planet. For God wants us to pass on to our children and grandchildren a world that is healthy . . . a world where they can live to grow old.
A friend of mine used to say, “Pretending doesn’t make it so.” I’ve watched with dismay this week as one executive order after another has come from the oval office. Many are attacking the very things I believe most strongly in, including care for the environment. The biblical narrative includes the stewardship of the creation. God’s gift of the earth was left in our hands to care for -not to destroy. Whenever we have forgotten this we have suffered painful consequences.
The creations stories of Genesis tell us that creation is given to the human to care for. “‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. . . . God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” ’ (Genesis 1:28,31) There was a time when the term global warming was not a political football. Nor was it a dividing line between conservative and liberal Christians. I look back on those years with fondness, while I continue to be puzzled by how it became a source of division. Why wouldn’t all Christians want to protect the environment and change the course of future devastation? Even if it meant that we need to look for new and healthier energy sources.
When Jesus said that we were to love God with all of our heart, our mind and our soul, he expected us to use the wisdom that we were being given. The problem with denying the grave issues in front of us, is that you simply don’t work on it. Just like the addict claims not to have a problem, or the couple whose marriage is in trouble pretend it isn’t . . . Eventually the truth will be louder than all the pretending. Today island nations bear the brunt of rising oceans. An ice shelf the size of the state of Delaware is about to break off. It is the third year in a row of increasing world wide temperatures. You cannot hide from truth forever. Pretending doesn’t make it so. I pray that God is able to reach into the hearts and minds of those whose decisions will impact us for generations, so that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live in a world where this issue no longer threatens the earth.
My parents taught their children with parables – not the Biblical variety, but those homespun truths which grab wisdom by the tail. If something needed fixing, we’d hear “A stitch in time saves nine. ” My sister was often the recipient of “Don’t’ cut off your nose to spite your face, ” every time she and her friend got into an argument and stopped talking to each other. When we were about to short change a project we were working on, my mother would tell us, “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” Both parents were especially fond of letting us know not to “count our chickens before they’re hatched.”
My parents were the first naturalists I knew. They cared about the environment and taught each of us to care also. I learned from them about our interconnected world. In the rural area I grew up in, nature’s lessons were all around us. During the dry years our neighbor’s crops died in the field, and the lake that supported our fishing resort dropped to unhealthy levels. From an early age I learned how I used or misused the earth mattered. They taught us of the interconnected nature of earth and all of earth’s creatures.
Later I would hear more of the Biblical worldview of earth and God’s concern for the planet we live on. The Bible tells us that the earth belongs to God and everything in it. The Genesis account of creation calls upon us to be stewards of the creation. The gospel of John has this poignant word, “For God so loved the World.”
I’m puzzled by the political divide over care of our environment which we encounter today. Until recent years Christians were united in a concern for the earth and its creatures. We worked together for laws that limited pollution and cleaned up our lakes and rivers. I’m not sure when our collective wisdom changed, or how the environment got mixed into creation theologies as if one believed God created the heavens and the earth, one couldn’t believe that the earth was in danger.
I don’t know how this happened, but I yearn for that time of yesterday, when words like Global Warming and Climate Change were not political fireballs, but words that pushed us, regardless of political affiliation, into action. I yearn for the time when we so love God with our mind, heart, soul and strength, that we invest ourselves in all the ways we can to make a difference for the generations who follow us.
Pope Francis has set off a wave of controversy in the past week. His fresh Vatican perspective comes as an energizing breath of air to those of us who have wished that Roman Catholicism was more focused on the concerns of Jesus and less on the church. So, I’ve applauded his recent comments on both the economy and on the environment.
The writer of Genesis made a point of telling us in the creation narratives that we are stewards of the earth. God calls the creation good. The earth and the sky, birds and fish, water and sun, animals and humans, flowers and trees – it’s all good. God then puts the care of creation into our hands. We are to have dominion over it. Which is not a license to use and abuse the earth, but to be responsible for it. The choice has always been ours. For centuries we have recognized the human contribution to our environment. We have had to reclaim the call to manage and care for the earth, to keep our waters’ fresh and our air pure. Late in the 13th century burning of sea-coal so polluted England’s air that King Edward penalized anyone caught burning it. Lead poisoning in public water supplies was recognized in Julius Caesar’s time.
I grew up in a home that valued the environment. Just as our farm neighbor’s were dependent upon the rain and the sun for the health of their crops and their livelihood, our fishing resort was also dependent upon an adequate supply of rain. Without it, lake levels dropped, fish froze out in the winter and worry about getting the mortgage paid colored our days. We learned about conservation. We were schooled in its importance. Today we have a much more global understanding of the impact of industry and energy policies on the earth.
I’ve been convinced by the numerous scientific studies which have warned that we are entering a major change in climate if we do not act in responsible ways now. Trends obvious in the scientific community in the 50’s and 60’s are escalating today. I think what Pope Francis wants us to realize is that we have a limited period of time to turn around in the way we are caring for the earth, before cataclysmic change occurs. In the book of Jonah, we find a man who doesn’t want to go to Nineveh warning the people that they will be destroyed if they do not change as a people. Maybe it was because the Ninevites could figure out that Jonah had no desire to be in their city, warning them of impending disaster, that they took to heart his words. The city changed. They repented, which means they turned around. They changed direction. The city was saved. I wonder as I read that scripture today, if it wasn’t so much that God chose not to destroy the city, as they were saved by changing from their self-destructive actions which would have brought about their inevitable end.
The prophetic word to change comes to us through ordinary people who have been given a word by God. Sometimes they are shepherds like Amos and other times they are religious figures like Martin Luther King Jr. Most often we have stoned the prophets, or tried mocking them into silence. But God’s truth will not be silenced. God’s love for all of creation is evident in the scriptures. One day we will look back at this time either as one when the world figured out we needed to work together to save the earth, or with regret that we didn’t act when we could. May all of our eyes be opened to God’s truth and may we act accordingly.