Thursday, September 14, 2017

God to Humanity - Don't Be Easter Island

Genesis 2:8-17

As you might expect, the church has its own calendar that runs parallel to events and scheduling that humanity has created. The seasons of the church run kinda, sorta parallel with the seasons of nature. In the church, the new year begins with the season of Advent—usually the end of November or early December – four Sundays before Christmas Day. A season within the church is a time set apart to give particular focus to God’s work in the world—usually through the life and ministry of Jesus. So, the anticipation and hope of the birth of Jesus gives us the season of Advent and the healing miracles and the calls for justice that threatened the powers that be and resulted in his execution is contemplated during the season of Lent, leading up to Easter Sunday. Following the celebration of Easter Sunday, during the season of Easter, we remind ourselves of the power of the resurrection that is in our lives. In recent years, it has been recognized that we have traditionally read the Bible as only concerned with God and humans. We spent year after year, cycling through the readings of the Bible with only an eye and an ear to what God intends for humanity. In our hubris, we have overlooked that the Bible also attends to the rest of the living world. With this realization, the wider church has set aside the Sundays of September and early October as the Season of Creation—a time to direct our attention to the natural world around us and in Scripture. This Sunday is Forest Sunday.

Zambian Spiders are no joke
- this one was 2.5 inches in diameter
We know that God loves the creation that God created. In the first of two stories of creation in the Book of Genesis, God created each component of creation and saw every aspect to be ‘good’. I might argue here that there is no such thing as a ‘good’ spider—just ask the folks I just went to Zambia with how much I enjoy spiders—of any size. We did have a couple of people on the trip who were apparently more godly than myself and they argued strenuously that we shouldn’t kill the spiders in our living accommodations but I will admit that had trouble getting on board with that plan. The only good spider is a dead spider. But I digress. In this first account of creation that God told humanity to have dominion over every living thing. But, in the second story of creation, the one Dianne read for us today, God told the first human to till and to keep the Garden of Eden. Now, humans having the ability to imagine and to be builders themselves, and frankly, also having opposable thumbs was extremely beneficial. Having these two skill sets along with an innate desire to strive to improve, to better ourselves, has meant we have evolved dramatically since those first days in the Garden. We have come to view the world as ours to use as we need for such improvements, to make things better. The world is for our use rather than as God’s for God’s use. And when this belief has been challenged, certain people who proclaim to know the Bible forwards and backwards, answer that God put the world into our care—that we are to have dominion—to be the ones who declare how the resources and other living beings of the world will be used and treated. God told us that humanity would have supremacy over the earth.

But there is a further definition of dominion: to care for those who are dependent on you. Such as we would care for our children and care for our pets. We understand that we are not to cause harm to our children, to our cherished cats and dogs and all other manner of beloved animals. If we find out that something we are doing is causing our loved ones to be ill or to be hurting, we cease and desist immediately and we seek to help them. And so, while there are Christians who look to the Book of Revelation to point out that God promised a new heaven and a new earth, there are plenty of other Christians who point to the words of Jesus who told u to love our neighbours as ourselves—and, yes, ALL of creation is our neighbour. If we are to create heaven here on earth as Jesus tells us to, there is no mythically far off time in which the planet of earth will be made as new. It is our responsibility to till it and to keep it—to keep it so that it may be home to our future—home to our children, to our grandchildren and home to the many, many plant and animals with home we share this earth with—even, I will admit, the stupid spiders.

Did you know that forests cover 30% of the earth’s land area? Anyone with child that has been through grade seven here in Alberta has likely been reminded of how amazing trees are for our world. Because they offer a rather stoic presence in our world, we might think of trees as not really doing anything, but we know, in fact their roots extract water and minerals from the ground. Their branches produce countless solar factories, leaves transform sunlight and carbon dioxide into water vapor, oxygen, and sugars that store energy for growth and fruiting. The industry of trees support all animal life, including our own, producing elements we require for breath, nourishment, and hydration. Trees also offer to us many opportunities to experience beauty, peace and an sense of the awesomeness of God’s power. I don’t know about you but when I’m in a forest, wild or urban, I oftentimes find myself talking or praying to God for the Divine seems to reside easily amongst the trees.

The last decade has been the warmest on record, continent-wide. Science of the climate has shown conclusively that humanity has had such an impact on the climate, that change in the world’s climate is happening. Of course there are climate-change deniers but we need to remember that for every scientist who would stand against climate change, there are a thousand that confirm it is happening. But when discussions about climate change occur on tv shows or in political forum, the so-called debate is one-on-one, giving the impression that there are equal numbers on either side. In reality, the one denier needs to be sitting across the desk from a vast a number of other scientists who have an untold number of studies and reports that prove climate change is real. So, the warmer temperatures cause increased evaporation which leads to drier lands and an earlier snowmelt which then increases the duration and severity of wildfires. Wildfires are a natural part of the life-cycle of forests. There are plants that need the heat of fire to cause their seeds to break open and become new trees. The irony is that humans, with the potential threat to recreation and living areas, have learned how to suppress forest fires. By not allowing smaller fires to burn, the natural deadfall of the forest is not cleared out—creating fuel for larger and more intense fires which are then that much more difficult to put out—as we have well witnessed in BC this summer, in Fort McMurray last year and in Slave Lake in 2011.

For my mom, cutting down a tree was akin to committing a crime. I can remember a time that I was advocating for removing one of the trees from our backyard and my mom and my spouse became as one person in their outrage and they completely shut down any further talk of such nonsense. We know that trees all over the world are cut down for paper and building materials and for clearing space for farming, ranching and human developments. We also know that when too many trees in a concentrated area are removed, erosion happens, which can have a dramatic impact on the surrounding environment and ecosystem. Human activities have significantly increased the rate at which erosion occurs globally. Deforestation causes damage to habitats, cause loss of biodiversity and causes aridity—a lack of moisture in the soil. There are now only 4 billion hectares that remain of what is understood to be the pre-industrial 6 billion hectares. We not only put ourselves and our own habitats in danger when we lose our forests to mass wildfire or destroy our forests for our needs but we are also a poorer creation when we lose the animals and plants—sometimes the loss is so profound that extinction happens. This is not a phenomenon that emerged only in modern day.

When Easter Island was "discovered" by Europeans in 1722, it was a barren landscape with no trees over ten feet in height. The small number of inhabitants, around 2000, lived in a state of civil disorder and were thin and emaciated. Virtually no animals besides rats inhabited the island and the natives lacked sea-worthy boats. Understandably, the Europeans were mystified by the presence of great stone statues, some as high as 33 feet and weighing 82 tons. Even more impressive were the abandoned statues-as tall as 65 feet and weighing as much as 270 tons.  (NB - from here on in, I paraphrased Gretta Vesper - With or Without God - essentially that the original residents of Easter Island were a people who used the many robust tress on the island to make boats in order to fish. The people began to worship their ancestors and created big stone statues to worship. The statues were moved from the stone quarries to the coast by cutting down trees and rolling the statues across the island. As competition for making statues increased, more and more trees were cut down to move the larger and larger statues. Until the trees were completely consumed.

Imagine what might have been going through the head of the tree-cutter as he was cutting down the last known tree on Easter Island. Reminds me of the Dr. Suess storybook, The Lorax. Long before ‘going green’ was mainstream, Dr. Seuss’ Lorax spoke for the trees and warned of the dangers of disrespecting the environment. In the story, we learn of the Once-ler, who came across a valley of Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots, and how the Once-ler’s harvesting of the tufted trees changed the landscape forever. When Dr. Seuss gets serious, you know it must be important. Published in 1971, and perhaps inspired by the "save our planet" mindset of the 1960s, The Lorax is an ecological warning that still rings true today amidst the dangers of clear-cutting, pollution, and disregard for the earth's environment. The story ends with the The Lorax having disappeared, and leaving only "a small piece of rocks, with the one word...'UNLESS.'" For years, the Once-ler wondered and worried about what that meant…UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
byLena Karpinsky
Our scripture reading tells us today, God’s creation in the Garden of Eden gave us all that we need—trees of all kinds—the ones pleasant to sight and ones good for food. The instructions were to care for God’s great creation and that we may eat freely of all that creation has to offer with the exception of one tree. God gave us EVERYTHING WE EVER NEEDED in the Garden but we still wanted more—we wanted what we told we could not have. And OF COURSE that tree was called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The irony is that if the first people had just left that tree of knowledge well enough alone, we would supposedly still be living in the Garden. But humanity’s hubris was there from the very beginning. Look at us, we have opposable thumbs. We can do math—we can see that one plus one is two and we know that four is more than two. We want more, we deserve more. Sure we have enough but enough isn’t enough. We want more. So we ate from the tree. And despite it being of the knowledge of good and evil, some three thousand years later we still haven’t figured out what’s good and what’s evil—for ourselves, for each other and for the environment. In our modern day, Christians are re-reading our scriptures with an eye and an ear for God’s creation that beyond is beyond mere humanity. In recent decades we are beginning to realize that, not only do we not have time to wait for a new heaven and a new earth—what was intended by the scriptures is that we are make God’s heaven, God’s peace, on this earth. In this time. We have been given everything we will ever need. How do we till it and keep it so that all creatures, all plants, all of creation has a place heaven alongside humanity? How do we have dominion over the earth, how do we protect it so that we do not consume it as the people of Easter Island did with their most precious resource? As the Once-ler did with the Truffula Trees?

Some lessons from The Lorax (Bret Love  - that I have adapted slightly...

1.     Unspoiled wilderness is a thing to treasure.
2.     Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
3.     We must speak for the tress and all other living things.
4.     Don’t expect people in power to make eco-conscious decisions. (I don’t believe this to be true – but I think there needs to be help/reminding/regulations.)
5.     In nature, every action has a reaction.
6.     Development, if not sustainable, is a dead-end road.
7.     Rampant consumerism creates a non-sustainable lifestyle.
8.     Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. See if you are interested in becoming involved with environmental issues.
9.     Children are the seeds, and we must help them grow.
10. There is hope for the future, and it is us. Thanks be to God.

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