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Posts tagged ‘creation’

Spiritual Themes in Earth Day

A few years ago I watched a youtube video especially dedicated to Earth Day. The man in the video started a gas blower and set it down, then he started a gas weed eater and set it down, then he started a push mower (remember all these things are still running) then a ride-on mower, then his car, and his truck. At the bottom of the screen flashed the words “Happy Earth Day.” The creator of the video was making an obvious statement. He did not support the ideals of Earth Day, and obviously didn’t accept the concept of climate change. This offended my sensibilities. I remember driving an old car with no air conditioner on I-240 in Memphis, Tennessee, reading signs that said, “Smog Warning: Leave Your Windows Up.”

As Unitarian Universalists, we articulate very clearly our ideals through our principles, specifically the 7th principle:

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

This principle reminds us that that we are part of this world and this world is a part of us. We should, therefore, care for the world so it can care for us. However, even before coming to the Unitarian Universalist Church, taking care of the planet was a spiritual issue for me. Every year around Earth Day when I had the chance to preach a sermon I showed pictures of the great Pacific garbage patch, smog warnings, and oil-covered ducks. Of course, I didn’t start there–I started with the Hebrew Bible.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”-Genesis 1:28

Coming near the end of the creation narrative, this statement defines the roll of man in the new creation. Upon a simple read, it doesn’t say much, the only thing that really ever stuck out to me is the word “subdue.” The word in Hebrew is generally used during war–in referencing the control of something hostile. In this case, there is nothing hostile working against Adam and Eve. They are working in congruence. Quite simply put, “you are in charge.” The next word that sticks out is “rule” (or to have dominion over). This is not being used in a violent context. In essence, humanity is set up as steward of creation. There is nothing violent here. Humanity is never asked to fight against creation but to care for it. In fact, it is one of the oldest commands in the Hebrew Bible. In this context, the world will be shaped by humans and it will reflect their own nature. Later, as we move through Genesis into Noah’s narrative, we find that reflection to be found wanting.

Some Unitarian Universalists, however, don’t really give much precedence to a biblical or Christian argument. We have been presented with scientific studies that inform our cultural milieu in regard to environmentally sound solutions and that is fine. However, I still think it is important to know. I think it is important because as we study the political landscape we often find that those who oppose earth friendly solutions are often aligned with the political/religious right, and in that context, it often means Christians. If we look upon the recent history of our planet, we clearly see that human beings, since their rise to power, have shaped this earth.

Even more importantly it creates a spiritual alignment that connects most religious belief systems; that is, we are connected (or maybe interconnected) spiritually to the world around us and all things dwelling above and below it. Spiritually, we are part of the whole, we are interdependent, which means we are individual and corporate at the same time. In fact, whether one believes they are created in God’s image or not, the responsibility to our home is the same. If in fact one believes this world was created “good,” wouldn’t that mean we should try to keep it that way? Sometimes I struggle working with people with that worldview as they ignored smog and pollution. They ignored species after species becoming extinct and the destruction of the forests necessary to provide us oxygen. I always struggled to understand how any person, religious or not, could look upon the earth we created and call it good.

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What We Lose in the Debate

I would assume many of you who follow or read this blog know about the debate that took place Tuesday night between Bill Nye and Ken Ham at the Museum for Creation Science in Petersburg, Kentucky. The event was well attended and live-streamed on the Internet. Bill Nye represented a side that said the earth came into being through a multi-billion year process, whereas Ken Ham argued that the earth came into being through a six-day creative process invoked by the God of “The Bible.” Both sides outlined their viewpoint, articulated their evidence (as they saw it), and probably didn’t convince anyone listening of anything new. I would guess that most people watching were already set on how they felt.

I suspect most Unitarian Universalists went to bed feeling that Bill Nye articulated well the right view and probably won the debate, as I suspect evangelical Christians went to bed feeling the same thing toward Ken Ham.

That doesn’t mean the debate was fruitless. Both debaters acted civilly toward one another and articulated clearly their views. It is necessary to model communication without name-calling and fighting.

But I got something else out of the debate. My questions for Ham would have come from the realm of theology not science, in fact it didn’t sound as if Ham was conversant with the Hebrew text, and when converting theology to science you might as well start with the original text. But the problem is when anyone tries to fit theological text into a scientific mold, we lose something very important–soul. In fact turning Genesis into a scientific text waters down the great theology that can be derived.

Genesis 1 and 2 is a piece of beautifully crafted literature. The words were not chosen simply or quickly. There was redaction and obvious work done to weave the beauty of humanity, ethics, and morality into the world. Humanity is created in this story and placed into an important role–that of steward. We were made, planted onto this earth to care for it, the world was good, we were good, and when we are good, good things happen. But the flood teaches us that the world will reflect our work–even when the work is not so good.

The first chapter of the creation story actually tells a wonderful story about the conversion of chaos into beauty. When I first read the story in Hebrew, it reminded me of something Michelangelo had said about sculpting marble. He didn’t add things, he just removed the parts that weren’t supposed to be there. In the creation story, life is art. I will never forget the first time I read the creation story in Hebrew–it completely changed my understanding.

It wasn’t about days, it was about hearts; it wasn’t about structures, it was about majesty; it wasn’t about science, it was about soul. I can theologically argue why I think this text is being misused, but I fear if I do that I become part of the problem.

In Genesis, God breathes into our nostrils, into our souls, makes us special, pointing out that the spirit of life is our spirit, and the poetry of our days remind us that all good things require work. That is just fine for someone like me.

-Justin