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I want to speak to the theological reasons of why it is so important for us to take a stand on the environment. I want to invite us into the dream of what a greening temple our earth could become again. Our conquest and subjugation of this land and its peoples was fueled not only by our European greed but by a mis-reading of the Bible. Our white immigrant ancestors laid plunder to the land based on the line in Genesis 1:28 “fill the earth and subdue it” that one word subdue implies a freedom to do as we will, but other translations imply a different injunction: many Catholic versions order humanity to “work the earth” “steward the earth”. During this, our own stewardship campaign, I favor the translation from the Hebrew that our commandment in Genesis is to “bring creation to the earth”, just as the Creator did. In fact, the very image of the garden of Eden is meant to convey our blue planet as the very model of what the Creator intended in the Genesis story. Just as God created humanity in her image, so too are we commanded to steward the earth towards the image of Eden. I always wonder about Eden. What if women ran the show. Eve said to God, “I have a problem”. “What’s that?” said God “I really appreciate this garden and all the food and this comedy snake you gave me but it’s getting a little lonely.” God thought about this for a while and said “I can give you a man”. “What’s a man?” asked Eve. “Well he is a flawed creature with an enormous ego, and an inability to listen to you. But he is stronger and faster and good at catching dinner.” “Ok” says Eve, “I will take him”. “There is one catch” says God. “What’s that?” asks Eve. “You have to let him believe I created him first.” Men running rough shod over the earth was definitely not the intention of the creator. I still believe that ours is a dream we can still hope to realize.
As David Eisenberg wrote in his classic The Ecology of Eden:
“….we dream of Eden. We cannot help feeling that it still exists, but just beyond our reach–beyond the wall of dark fire kept roaring by of the brain….“The Dreamtime of the Aborigines, when the totemic ancestors walked the world and sang it into being, can be partly regained by those whose lungs and feet are up to the job. With the aid of shamans or mushrooms, other indigenous peoples are sometimes able to call back the age when heaven and earth were not yet sundered and humans talked companionably with animals and gods. But such moments are shot through with danger, and quick to evaporate. By and large, “primitive” peoples seem to feel, as we do, that something has wrenched them out of the dream.”
Is it possible for us to realize that dream again, to walk again into the greening temple of this home we call earth, to save ourselves from extinction? In 1979 a chemist by the name of James Lovelock and a microbiologist by the name of Lynn Marulis came up with something they called the ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ which claims that all the earth taken together, ‘her atmosphere, her soil, plants, animals and people form one complex and interconnected life system’. Sound familiar? It should, it’s our 7th principle as a Unitarian Universalist, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
If the Gaia hypothesis is correct than we haven’t been treating ourselves very well at all. In fact, humanity is like a cancer on the body of the earth. And like cancer cells in our own body we will either fight back or be destroyed. What I am suggesting is that, like our 7th principle, we actually may be living in the body of a divine organism in which we are only one part. In a daily sense we are conditioned to believe that the earth is something apart from us, but ponder how small minded that might be. Looking out over the ocean the world looks flat until you see a ship coming over the horizon and realize we are on a very large blue globe.
Centuries of patriarchy – believing our role was to subdue the earth and own it – has led to not only the demonization of the earth (ever wonder why hell is down there) but has led to more destructive trends such as the demonization of women, who like the earth, bear life. Mother earth, up until the last 4000 years was the goddess of life and worship. The sky god of Genesis subdued her and her chaos and made the male ascendant in theology and culture. In the book of Genesis Eve is portrayed as temptation, sin, the fallen siren of evil who takes the fruit of the earth from that most earthly of creatures, the snake and forever dooms humanity. Even for us, as religious liberals, the earth is really not holy. Think of land ownership. Here in CT we think about it a lot. That little piece of earth you may “own” is part of a substantial worth to our heirs. This church property which we believe we “own” is worth what $15 million? But what do we own? Perhaps we really don’t own anything in life. At least nothing you take with you. Imminent domain, earth quakes, hurricanes, nuclear bombs, what of the earth do you really own? And how long do we own it?
And isn’t that the point? We were, even in the biblical account, appointed stewards of the land, not owners. We were asked to take care of it for the future of life. And when we stop sentimentalizing nature and realize that we are the ones who are owned by the earth, we can truly enter the greening temple. Adam means “earthling” and humanity comes from the same source as humus and humility. Nature takes life as well much as she gives it to us, she has no pretense of consciousness, no attachment to any of us, and yet we are creative partners. This earthly temple not only shelters us but inspire us to change. What Yeats called “the sublime movement of all that we see”.
And it is change that is calling to us. Until just recently I used to think that the environmental movement was somehow disconnected with the larger issues of justice. Environmentalism can be seen as a culture of exclusion that wanted to protect the planet at the cost of others using it, or perhaps even, as in the logging states at the cost of jobs. Environmental justice is interwoven with social justice if we only broaden our lens. We need to throw open the doors of our greening temple for all. Taking care of the planet is what is going to help bring justice, living wages and real security to those who need. As Van Jones, an activist in Oakland put it to our General Assembly some years ago “one good thing about green collared jobs is they can’t be outsourced. If you want to weatherize your building, you can’t ship it to India, if you want to build wind farms, its wind blowing in the US that is harvested.” (quoted in The Sun, interview with Van Jones March 2008) So working for justice requires making our environment more sustainable. However, not perhaps in the way we see it. Because Jones also challenges us white environmentalists. “A lot of wealthy educated people wanted to take action after Al Gore’s movie, but most low income people of color I know had no interest in seeing it in the first place. They already have enough problems. They don’t need new crisis to worry about….poor people need to hear about opportunities (ibid Jones)
What Jones and others have now shown, environmental justice is not something separate from social justice, it is one of a whole. Create justice, create life, any justice for any life. For years I worked with immigrant rights groups to protest the pollution in the Los Angeles harbor. Why? Because what we know is that those who are down wind of polluters tend to be immigrants and other communities of color, in other words, poor people are those most subjected to environmental injustice. Working for environmental justice creates a better environment and better jobs for those most affected by that injustice.
Talking about saving the planet is not going to save the planet. Becoming white allies of people of color creating opportunities in green ways will necessarily connect the two and open our green doors to everyone. Some of our most creative people I know are working on these issues. Today ends the first climate justice month with an organization I have just joined the Commit2Respond. This coalition of congregations, organizations and individuals reaches out in broad coalitions to get serious about climate change. I am asking those interested in this initiative to join our environmental justice committee and take the pledge. http://www.commit2respond.org/act.
We are a Green Sanctuary church that we will go to the trouble of fitting our values to our actions. We can enter and live within this greening temple, starting right here. We can remember, as Chief Seattle once said ‘that the earth does not belong to us we belong to the earth”. And once we recognize that even an inner city garden plot is part of this greening temple our minds will be open to seeing the connection between honoring the earth and honoring those of us who live within its embrace. We would do well to see the connection between the earth and our culture. Are we only standing on the roof of this greening temple trying to get inside? The door actually may be our humility; the belief that we are only as the 7th principle reminds us a part of the web. Humility, humbling, humus. It’s more than recycling. Recycling won’t save the planet. But an ethic of care to what we do with our waste and how we treat other people, humility that we are only visitors here might actually save the world. A kind deed, a voice in the wilderness, the light we shed is never wasted. We have the power not only in our humility but in our creative ability to change the world. No truth in this vast swirling universe is sealed. It’s always open to the power of creation. It is the reason why we are here and why we teach our children to imagine a better world. It’s the theology of the earth and our creative abilities to honor and grow with this earth that makes us truly human. Human, humus.
As God spoke to Moses “Remove thy sandals from thy feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” Enter this holy ground with us, enter the greening temple.
In the words of Kabir: “Suppose you scrub your skin until it shines,
but inside there is no music,
Stephen Schick went on to ask,
“Suppose you cried a thousand years for a child who died
when she drank bad water.
Suppose you organized a great movement
to clean the water.Enter the Greening Temple
Suppose you carried the first filled glass
to the child’s sister.
Suppose you lifted it to her lips.
Suppose you watched her dive into the glass,
splash, and swim on”.
Suppose we did. Amen.