September 14, 2014 Genesis 1: 26,29-31 and Chief Seattle
A message from Chief Seattle:
Teach your children
what we have taught our children --
that the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
If men spit upon the ground,
they spit upon themselves.
This we know
The earth does not belong to us;
we belong to the earth.
This we know,
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life;
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web,
we do to ourselves…
I’m not coming to you today as a prophet of doom. (although it may seem like it). I am here to wake us up. The earth is no longer just praising God, as we did last week, it’s pleading with us humans: “What are you doing to me? Why won’t you wake up?!!!”
The reasons are multifold, and some of them are based in our Christian communities. They scare me as much as the dire statistics and predictions presented by leading scientists and environmentalists.
A poll printed in the Christian Century a couple of years ago shows the % of those Christians who place the blame for natural disasters squarely on God:
56% believe God controls everything in the world.
40% believe natural disasters are God’s way of testing faith.
38% believe natural disasters are a sign from God.
29% believe God punishes nations for the sins of its citizens.
Obviously they didn’t poll any of us. These are frightening statistics, not only because I believe it’s bad theology, but it gets humans off the hook for their mistreatment of the earth.
Then there are the extreme fundamentalists who reject the theory of evolution and believe the destruction of the environment is actually a good thing, because it will hasten the end times when they will be catapulted up to a cloud to live with Jesus and all will be well - for them. I’ve had people try and convince me of this - none of you sitting in this room.
There are people overwhelmed and frightened by what they hear, feeling helpless to do anything about it - and those who prefer to remain ignorant so they won’t have to face the facts and do anything that might impinge upon their lifestyles.
There are the politicians, of both parties, bought off by big business, big coal and oil industries, held captive by wealthy lobbyists, who hold the purse strings for their future elections. They’ve been fighting over the keystone pipeline for how long now? I preached on it back in 2011.
Where does this leave our precious earth? Where does this leave the future of our children and grand children? Where does this leave those in our world trapped in poverty and rising seas?
At the close of the first creation myth from Genesis, God entrusts the earth to us. As I clarified last week, the word “dominion” means “to have responsibility for the care of something” - to be stewards - not to exploit, abuse or use up to satisfy our never ending greed and need for more. At least that is my reading of our ancient scriptures.
Our scripture calls us to be caretakers of God’s good creation, but what does our culture call us to be? - Consumers, engines to drive our robust economy. It promotes a sense of entitlement more than a sense of responsibility.
What is harming the earth? - in three words - our life style, and how easy is it to change that? They are finding out in California, where I came from. Friends tell me of filling pails from their shower water to use to flush the toilets; letting their plants die and replacing them with succulents. All the while developers are continuing to build houses and hotels and vineyards, which all need water, when they have a shortage of water.
The governor asked people to use 20% less water, and a few months later people had increased their consumption by 1% compared to the same month the previous year. Old habits are hard to break.
The earth is asking us to wake up.
My friend Rich Kurrasch, wrote an article this month for the “People of Faith for Justice” newsletter in California, addressing this very topic. He writes:
“Someday, though, somebody is going to have to say no to one more grape, no to one more of anything that requires more of something that we either do not have or is not good for us (creating more nuclear waste comes to mind).
This in turn will impose lifestyle changes on most all of us (99% anyway). That's the part most all of us really resist. Maybe we'll give up our lawns, but curiously, we seem to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and in the manner that pleases. We seem to think, or at least we live, as if the whole thing will go on forever, or at least as long as we ourselves go on, whichever comes first. So, we may not have any water for it, but we stick another grape in the ground anyway, because we can (or someone can).”
We don’t have a shortage of water here in Massachusettes, that’s for sure, but there are enough environmental concerns to go around. Reebee will be addressing the big one, climate change, on September 28th.
I don’t have to tell you what the repercussions of our actions are doing to our environment. You saw it this morning in pictures. What I would like to do is talk about some simple steps we can take that can lead to a dramatically more sustainable future for our increasingly overpopulated world. They come from a book I bought at a conference on the environment called Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet. You are welcome to borrow it.
Reebee is a shining example of the first of these. Whenever she can, which is often, she rides her bicycle from Arlington to the church - even on Sunday mornings! The bicycle is used more than any other mode of transportation in the world. They outnumber automobiles almost two to one. How many of you have a bicycle?
In Denmark, the happiest country in the world, 1/5 of all trips in Danish cities are done by bicycle. In the U.S. only two thirds of one percent. But, I’ve been excited recently to see stands with bicycles in NYC and Boston that you can rent! You don’t even have to own it!
At the beginning of this century Americans made 86 percent of all trips by car and drive their cars as many miles as all drivers in the rest of the world combined. One in 5 American households now own three vehicles or more.
Fewer than 10% of humans can afford to buy a car. Roughly 80% can afford to buy a bicycle. If everyone owned a car, building the necessary roads and parking spaces would bankrupt governments and probably threaten world food supplies. China would have to pave the equivalent of 40% of the nations cropland to give each of its citizens access to as much pavement as an American has. And that’s starting to happen in China. Joe Holt wore a face mask walking on the streets in China in order to breathe.
I want to share briefly a couple of other ideas. One of them was recently installed in the chapel: the ceiling fan. Air conditioners use up one sixth of the electricity in the U.S. They tie with refrigerators for demanding the most electricity in U.S. households. On hot summer afternoons, air conditioners consume 43% of the nation’s peak power load.
It’s easy to forget that the invisible juice flowing out of small sockets in our walls causes acid rain, global warming, salmon extinction, nuclear waste, and various human health problems. Roughly half of North America’s electricity comes from burning coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Electricity emits 35% of the US climate changing carbon dioxide and 70% of its acid rain-forming sulfur dioxide. Air conditioning an average US household sends about three tons of carbon dioxide up power plant smokestacks each year.
The ceiling fan, on the other hand, is a sustainable wonder. They use very little electricity: at highest speed, a ceiling fan uses 50- to 75 watts (as much as one incandescent lightbulb) - less than one tenth the wattage of a medium sized room air conditioner. Using a fan together with an air conditioner can greatly reduce the expense and impact of chilling the air. With a fan going, you can set a thermostat 9 degrees higher and feel just as comfortable - and save about a third off the cooling (and global warming bill.)
Another marvel, almost forgotten in the U.S., but adorning buildings and backyards throughout Europe is the clothesline. In the U.S. three fourths of our households have dryers; only 15% even occasionally line-dry their clothing, even though clotheslines and racks are simple, silent, and completely nonpolluting. They take few materials to manufacture and require no electricity or fuel to operate.
What is this? (hold up book) It’s not just any book. It’s a library book. How many of you use the library? The U.S. has less than 5 % of the world’s population, but consumes 31% of the world’s paper production. A book borrowed from a public library will most likely take the place of a book purchased from a store.
By reducing the demand for paper, a library saves forests from logging and rivers from logging-road erosion; it saves the places where salmon swim and spawn, and the electricity demands of paper mills and printers. The average North American library lends out 100,000 books a year and buys fewer than 5,000, saving nearly 50 tons of paper and 250 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the process- in short, fighting the habitat loss and pollution that endanger so many species. And then there’s also the “kindle” and the “i-pad” - which don’t use any paper at all!
These are just a couple of ideas from the book. I’m sure you have even more. Some of mine are simple: My car is filled with these (hold up cloth bag). I’m surprised that Massachusettes is still allowing plastic bags. They are one of the biggest polluters of the ocean and harmful to marine life.
I stopped buying bottled water years ago, also a huge polluter - replaced easily with (hold up bottle). And why do so many products we purchase have to be encased in heavy plastic?
The Ocean Conservancy in 2013 reported that 12,329,332 lbs. of trash were picked up by 648,015 volunteers all over the world, covering 12,914 miles. What did they find? cigarette butts, food wrappers, bottle caps, plastic and glass bottles, cans, plastic bags and enough items to furnish an entire studio apartment. These were items left on the shores. They hadn’t made it into the ocean yet!
The earth is asking us to wake up.
Environmentalists tell us if the entire world wanted to live as we do, and many of them do, the earth wouldn’t be sustainable. Which puts those of us with a conscience, who are living well, in a dilemma. This is where our sense of entitlement and responsibility meet head on. Are we going to be caretakers or consumers? Can we be both?
You will find in your bulletins today a green leaf. I invite you to write on it one thing that you will do for the environment. There is a tree on the bulletin board in the hallway. Tape it there on your way to fellowship. Let’s cover that tree all the ideas we can share with each other.
And remember this week, as you are racing around in your busy lives, something God told Moses as he called to him out of a burning bush: “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Let us never forget where we are standing.