What Have They Done to the Earth?

Essays, Featured, Social Justice — By on April 22, 2011 at 6:00 am

What have they done to the earth
What have they done to our fair sister
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down!

The Doors

The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets…and for destroying those who destroy the earth.

Revelation 11:17-19

This year Earth Day and Easter are close to each other. This might be a good time to consider what the conjunction of these two days can teach us.

The ultimate irony, for those who claim to take the Bible seriously, is the contrast between the blatant disregard for the environment inherent in most Christian circles and God’s observation regarding creation as mentioned in Genesis 1:31; “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Virtually every page of the Bible reminds us that our primary duty is to “take care of the garden” – our core duty as humans is to take care of the earth and each other.

Jesus commanded that we live “in the world, but not of it,” and we find it much easier to do the opposite. On a typical Sunday morning, is your church parking lot indistinguishable from that of the local mall? Does the movement that turns the world upside down (Acts 17:6) need to visit your church?

Most churches are filled with people very much “of” the world, who spend their time as far “out” of the world as possible. You know these people – they go to “Christian” movies and “Christian” bookstores and vote for “Christian” issues and candidates. They keep themselves “clean” from worldly things. A visitor to these churches sees very clearly who does – and does not belong. Oddly enough, Jesus didn’t do this. His whole ministry was directed toward the lost, broken and rejected. He went to synagogue – but also to streets and markets. He actually touched people – sick people – people with icky diseases like hemorrhages and leprosy.

The religious people of his day, those of the perfect lawns and the proper pedigree, passionately hated him. For good reason. He threatened everything they represented.

Jesus’ message was, to them, a confusing and unpredictable broth of grace, anarchy, liberation and forgiveness. It was certainly not safe or predictable– and they wanted safety and predictability above all.

As always, the issue is, who is this Jesus? And who do we say that he is?

His question to each of us is; where is our allegiance?

We like to think that we are being very practical and realistic as we focus on managing our money, our careers and our relationships. Those are, or at least can be, good. But one thing we learn as we gain in years is that any one of these – and certainly two or more – can consume every speck of our time and energy.

Those things of the world, (and if only they were so simple and obvious as playing cards or dancing) take hold in us, like a virus and end up taking over our energy, our time, our identity. As Paul says, all things are lawful, but not everything makes us better. Jesus wants us not only better – but beyond our best. Far beyond.

Any pleasant and comfortable path can lead us into blasphemy. The holiest words can become routine and numbing – or accusing and poisonous.

And the greatest sin, may not be becoming too attached to the world, but too isolated from it.

One of the ultimate ironies is the confusion endemic among Christians regarding our relationship with the world.

All of us who attend church or are part of any religious tradition are familiar, perhaps too familiar, with the Lord’s Prayer, but consider these lines;

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-13 or Luke 11:2-4)

It is clearly God’s intention that His kingdom, His will would be done on earth. His earth.

Native American used to say of the European colonizers, that we were clever but not wise. I think that characteristic sums up the usual comprehension of that verse.

What is more universal in common human nature than to make a mess and leave it for someone else to clean up?

We forget at our peril that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”.  1 Corinthians 10:26 (New International Version)

And at the end times, all things are “made new” – not replaced but restored.

And perhaps creation will be “known by its scars”  just as” by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

I live in an area where a ten minute bike ride takes me into a forest filled with 400 year old fir trees. As I walk in the shadows of these trees which are older than many nations, I feel like an insect buzzing by. These trees have stood through storms, strife and endless human gawking. There are eagles’ nests in some of these trees. Some have held multiple generations of these graceful raptors.

I walk among these trees as an intruder – it couldn’t be more obvious that I do not belong here. I can be “in” these woods – but never “of” them. And yet, there is common ground, literally and figuratively, between me and these trees. We share a creator. And perhaps, as JRR Tolkien envisioned, the relationship between humanity and trees – indeed all of nature – will be restored. And we will both be made complete.

Not to touch the Earth,
Not to see the Sun,
Nothing left to do, but run, run, run,
Let’s run, let’s run.

The Doors

Oddly enough, The Doors in this semi-cryptic verse, sum up the human dilemma. We are in a state of alienation with both Creation – and our Creator. It is no wonder that creation “groans” – we are astonishingly out of touch we the earth. Consider, for example, how rarely most of us actually “touch” the earth as part of our daily routine. In our urban – and suburban – lives, we virtually never actually come into contact with the earth that we, according to Genesis, are to be the intended stewards of. We pave it, dig it, build on it and drive on it – but rarely do we touch it – especially with our bare skin. In fact you could find plenty of evidence that we deliberately avoid contact as much as possible.

And when do we “see the sun?” Of course we rarely look at the sun, but even sun worshippers are judicial about their time in the sun. We lather on the sunscreen – out of fear of what “exposure” to the sun will do to us. By far, the majority of us earn our livelihoods – and spend our leisure time – inside. Isolated from both the earth and the sun.

And as The Doors so aptly put it, we run. This is the pace of Adam after the Fall.  We are on the run from Creation – and our Creator. We keep moving. Even if we don’t go anywhere, we keep moving at a pace that overwhelms us. We may not find peace in our busyness, but we do find exhaustion. And perhaps even worse, we find a certain level of self-justifying, entitlement tinged refuge in our exhaustion.

Even Jesus refers to this condition of disconnection – he makes a point of saying that even he doesn’t have a place to call home (Luke 9:58 & Matt 8:20).  He personalizes this concept even more when he observes in Mark 6:4 and Matthew 13:57 that prophets, God’s people, are not recognized – or, even worse, if they are recognized, they are certainly not welcome in their home towns.

The Garden does not welcome us still, our work has become toil – and we rarely find our home there. In fact, many of us do not find a home anywhere. How many people do you know who have essentially no sense of home – or community?  We are barely “in” the natural world and what could it possibly mean to be “of” the world? It is much easier for us to be “of” a humanly constructed fantasy world like Star Wars or Harry Potter than the natural world around us.

And yet God speaks to us across our boundaries of comprehension. As Martin Luther put it, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.

Our job, as always, is to listen.

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    1 Comment

  • Chalem says:

    Being a big book nerd, I just read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The main character, when he is leaving the place where he had lived, a safe place, learns to love the earth and kisses the ground. It is a vital point of growth for him, learning to love the earth.

    Jesus, too, appreciated the beauty of creation. I love when he says to ‘consider the lilies of the field, they do not spin or grow, but Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these.’ He’s making a different point, but he’s also showing how ‘in the world’ he is.

    I guess I say that to agree with you. The world was not made for us to ignore it, and we may very well be missing out on something very important when we do so.

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