Earth Day, the Paris Agreement and a Cherry Tree
When I was young, my brother, dad, and I built a tree house in the back yard cherry tree.
One day when we were playing out there, my brother sat on a skinny branch and cracked it right off.
He came crashing to the ground, almost hitting me as I sat beneath.
Luckily it wasn’t a long fall, so my brother was ok.
But I was not.
Physically I was fine, but emotionally I was a wreck.
I cried my eyes out because I was so sad for the tree who had lost a limb.
My parents tried to explain to me that the tree felt no pain, and besides, it had other branches,
but it did no good:
“You wouldn’t want to lose an arm, would you?” I sobbed.
Perhaps many of us when we are young personify the natural world in this fashion—
insects are fascinating
backyard animals are as cute as pets, fun to watch their antics
sticks and rocks become like friends.
Children seem innately filled with wonder at the natural world.
It seems a sweet but naïve way of thinking.
It’s something we grow out of as we recognize that sticks and stones are for building
animals and crops are cultivated for food
squirrels are pests who dig up our lawns.
But I wonder if it is best that we completely grow out of this way of thinking.
Personifying nature implies that we have a kinship with the natural world.
In my child-like view of the cherry tree, I thought of the tree as being like a person,
with feelings and its own sense of purpose.
I had a reverence and respect for the tree because the tree and I had something fundamental in common.
Sadly, most of our modern western relationship with nature has not been one kinship.
We have dominated the natural world, turning it to our own ends,
modifying our environment and clearing out animals in favor of a world shaped to our purposes.
From the dramatic increase of extreme weather events related to climate change
to our profligate use of natural resources of oil, copper, and other metals
to an extinction rate of species this planet hasn’t seen since dinosaur die off 65 million years ago
it has become clear that human beings are changing the planet in ways that affects all its creatures
and even the earth itself.
We have put ourselves at the center of the universe, and to at our own peril.
This is in stark contrast with how the Bible portrays our relationship with the natural world.
Our Psalm today calls on all aspects of creation to praise the Lord:
from heavenly beings and stars in the sky
to seas and weather, from trees and animals to the peoples of the world.
Praise the Lord, sun and moon; sing praise, all you shining stars…
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps…
fire and hail, snow and fog… mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars…
wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds.
But notice: in this extended chorus of praise, people get mentioned in only 3 verses out of 14.
People are viewed as only one harmony in an intricate song of the universe.
We are not the center of the universe.
It is a helpful corrective to our human-centered way of thinking, and it is not the only example for us to draw on.
The native peoples of the world use the same words to refer to the natural world as they do their family.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at
the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry notes that indigenous cultures
typically have a special word to refer to all the beings of the living earth,
whether it is a tree, an animal, or a person.
She explains it this way:
If your grandmother is making soup, you say, “She is making soup.”
You would never say, “It is making soup.”
“It” is a word that signifies an object, something useful, perhaps,
but not something that requires the same attention or care as a human being.
In the same way, native people use the same word to include all the he/she/its of the world.
Accordingly, all creatures and the natural world the same respect and care as humans.
Right in their language, these most ancient cultures recognize the kinship of all elements of creation.
I think it is time we recovered the language of reverence for the earth.
For too long we have used God’s command in Genesis 1 to “have dominion over the earth”
as a legitimation for treating the earth and its creatures as mere resources for our use
without regard for how it affects those creatures and the environment—
not to mention that generations that come after us.
But not only that—it’s cultivating the understanding that it is just not all about us.
We are surrounded by intelligences other than our own.
Just yesterday I heard about a species of ant that has specialized to live in a flood plain.
It seems like a poor choice for a burrowing insect, but these ants have adapted.
When a flood comes, they are able to build a raft out of their own bodies.
They hold onto each other, jaw to leg, building layers,
protecting their queen at the center, and float their way to safety.
They do all this without an organization chart or memos or an overpaid CEO.
The creatures of the natural world indeed have amazing abilities.
Whales can sing and communicate across an ocean
birds and butterflies and salmon can navigate thousands of miles in migration
plants bend toward sunlight and produce their own food.
Why should we value our intelligence more than theirs?
Why view the natural world as less than us?
Why not think of them as the more than human world, a sign of God’s unending creativity?
Recovering reverence for our fellow creatures and for our mother earth enables our actions to follow.
Just as language that objectifies opens the door for abuse and misuse
language that notices and appreciates and sees God at work within nature leads to care and sustainability.
This past Friday was Earth Day.
On that day, 175 nations of the world signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
By signing they agree to take measures to limit global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius
and to monitor one another in the success of these measures.
This historic agreement is possible for a number of reasons:
the science of how our actions are impacting the entire planet is now accepted worldwide
developing countries are getting on board as well as richer countries
and we have the research and planning for what changes can make a positive difference.
But the agreement will only work if there is the political will to follow through.
Political will is created by people like us.
We need not only to understand the science of climate change
We also need to cultivate our love for all of this amazing creation
which God sees as worthy of inclusion and praise, apart from us.
The truth is this: We will care for what we love.
The true meaning of having dominion is to take care of.
We will only properly care for this earth when we learn love it on its own terms.
I want to end by talking about another tree.
There is a tree in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in the West End of Hartford.
It is this grand old black oak tree, clearly well over a hundred years old.
It’s limbs are gnarled and thick, it’s trunk scarred and bulging.
But it’s canopy is amazing—a huge network of branches and leaves reaching up to the sky.
I love this tree- looking at it gives me a sense of the passage of time,
and through patience and trust, all will be well.
I have grown out of crying over a lost tree limb.
But I hope I am beginning to reclaim that some of the relationship I felt with that cherry tree long ago
I hope we can all recover a measure of that kinship, of that appreciation and love.
It is sharing in God’s love and appreciation in the world that God created and said, “That’s good.”
Reverence for God’s creation is for our own healing
it’s for our ability to appreciate beauty and to live as faithful creatures
it’s for the healing of the earth.
Kid’s Sermon: Revelation and Recycling
Recycling bin—what goes in here? what happens to that stuff?
Turn into new cans, bottles, paper.
Like Revelation 21: “new heaven and new earth.”
but this new creation isn’t completely new—it’s made of recycled materials!
The new creation has elements of the original creation right in it—
Water of life, the city of Jerusalem, and later in chapter 22
imagery from the garden of Eden: four rivers and a Tree of Life.
God never abandons what God creates but instead reappropriates repurposes and renews the old.
Are there some things that cannot go in this bin? (Styrofoam, some plastics)
Likewise in God’s new heaven and earth, some things will not be recycled: mourning, crying or pain.
the chaos of the “sea” that undo health and happiness
These are no more.
Since we know about the new heaven and earth, we should abandon the ways that create crying and pain.
likewise, Styrofome, some plastics --these items do not biodegrade – they cause pain to the planet!
Did you know there is a swirling mass of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of TX?
It breaks down into little bits that the sea creatures eat, which ends up slowly killing them.
The things that do not recycle we should stop using.
On earth day weekend we can Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—and Revelation!