Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown, Genesis 1:1-31 and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
It’s wonderful to be with you this morning. Thank you for coming to our Earth Day Celebration! It has been so beautiful and Bear Creek is raging down below the patio of our building. It has been a gift for me to remember that the beautiful natural world rages on, even as much of our life together is paused. I invite us to begin with some centering, turning our minds toward the beautiful, ongoing flow of life. We open our minds and hearts to this prayer from Psalm 19:14, God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature, but of ourselves.” These words from the scientist, prophet and poet Rachel Carson speak to us so succinctly and so perfectly now. Can we demonstrate mastery over ourselves? If we take seriously our role in where we are, if we are people who believe in truth, who believe that this earth, that this chance to be able to be alive here like this is a gift, then how can we carry on as we were?
At the beginning of this process when we were in the first stages of grief, we noted together that even while we were mourning what was and what could not be, there was a part of us, deep down that knew some of that, perhaps many pieces of our old life need to die? Maybe some of what was, should not be reconstructed, remade, bailed out, propped up- so we can start right back where we were and do it all over again.
Because we have been in this formation for seven weeks now and even though the earth is approximately 4.543 billion years old, in a fraction of time, in a blink of an eye, as far as the Universe is concerned, we have seen with unique clarity, the impact of our life on planet earth. It’s not as if we didn’t know the numbers, but seeing it like this is just different.
Swans in Milan, clear skies in car-cluttered California, birds chirping in the middle of Madison Avenue and in many places they are reported to be out and loud and joyful without the constant presence of airplanes.
As the Daily Camera shouted in bold print last Sunday, this “Great Experiment” has shown us something special. Charlie Brennan wrote, “Mother Nature has effectively, done exactly what people said could not have been done. In a manner no one would have ever asked for…humankind is living through a prolonged and unintended test case of what it might look like if homo sapiens’ footprint on the planet- and much of our attendant emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants-was-dramatically reduced.”
Satellite data are showing that some cites are experiencing as much as a 45% drop in nitrogen dioxide levels. And some scientists are predicting that this Great Pause could result in a 5% reduction in gigatons of carbon for this year. Of course what we need to be doing is reducing by 8% each year, when instead we have been on a steady and rapid increase. This isn’t enough to put us on track to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above what we call “pre-Industrial” levels. And yet, this time is not just revealing and unveiling what is, and what could be, perhaps it can also invite us to ask some serious questions and to be honest with ourselves.
We knew we had encountered crossroads before but somehow this one seems different.
As Rachel Carson wrote, “We stand now where two roads diverge…they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
This crossroads presents us with this question: Can we demonstrate mastery over ourselves?
I continue to be deeply troubled by those who contend that the Christian position or what some call the “Dominion mandate” gives us permission to do what we wish with the creatures, to decimate entire populations of species because this is for us, to put economic growth before the sustainability of our biosphere. It is rooted in Genesis and although I believe it is a distorted interpretation, it is still a popular one. Just this week I read one so-called Christian commentator who wrote that “While it is laudable to see humans exercising their God-ordained responsibility to care for the creation, the prevailing view on environmental issues is skewed, as a proper Biblical foundation is lacking. The fate of the planet is, ultimately, not in the hands of mankind…and it is not the most important issue facing mankind. Ultimately, this decaying system will be replaced with a new heavens and earth anyway. Rather, the most important issue facing mankind is this: will the individual choose to acknowledge his Creator and be reconciled to Him?”
This is dangerous. This is denial. This is death. This is sin… The very meaning of the word reconcile, is to restore, to bring harmony, to bring union. But we know that people of faith have a habit of using scripture as a weapon.
In Genesis, we read that, “God said, “Let us make humankind [c] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,[d] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” And…”God blessed them, and God said to them, “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.”
That line, “fill the earth and subdue it” is more than unsettling to me. It conjures up the image of conquering and subjugating and that is basically what we have done. But this view is not just incomplete, it is unfaithful.
Having dominion means we have been gifted with authority and power, entrusted to perpetuate what was already here. It seems to me that God took a risk when evolving to us. What would humankind do with this much power? What might happen when given the power to influence all life in an entire biosphere?
We are living in a moment where those in the highest offices, in positions with powerful platforms are quick to claim authority and yet reticent to claim responsibility. The two cannot be separated. As Jesus taught in the Gospel of Luke, “To Whom Much is Given, Much Will Be Required.”
Would God see everything that was made and say that we have been good, that we have done right by this gift we have miraculously been given?
Perhaps you have already seen the essay by Arundhati Roy called, ‘The pandemic is a portal,’ where she writes, “What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe it’s God’s way of bringing us to our senses. Others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world. Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Beloved of God, I don’t know exactly what this means, but I know we are being summoned to a new path, a gateway, a portal. Now that we have seen what we can do, can we demonstrate mastery over ourselves? If we take seriously our role in where we are, if we are people who believe in truth, who believe that this earth, that this chance to be able to be alive here like this is a gift, then how can we carry on as we were? Swans in Milan, clear skies have opened our eyes!
Let the Earth Bring Forth, Let the Earth Put Forth, Let the Earth!!!!
May it be so.