Monday, 3 June 2013

"creation" not "environment"

When I was 19 I went camping in Banff National Park. I grew up tromping around in the woods, making fires, and building forts, but I had never hiked into the Rocky Mountains to camp overnight. My aunt and her friend invited me along with them and I was excited to go. We packed our bags (I probably over-packed my bag), and we drove to the trail-head  We got out of the car and I saw a massive playground- Foothills, trees, creeks, and grizzly bears. We started walking and after about 10 minutes my aunt’s friend mentioned to me that I wasn't walking in the right spot.
          The trail in front of me was mostly grass, but there was a 10 inch deep muddy ditch that cut through it. I was walking on the grass beside the ditch…. But she said I was supposed to walk in the deep muddy ditch. … There was something that bothered me about what she said. Perhaps it was just my rebellious ego. She was officially right- We were supposed to leave the park as untouched as possible. We were supposed to walk in the ditch so that there weren't trails all over the grassy foothills. She was officially right, but there was something that bothered me about what she was telling me and I think it went deeper than my rebellious ego. I have come to believe that theologically she was wrong. 
          She was theologically wrong because behind what she was saying was the belief that I was an alien to that place. I am an alien on this planet. I don’t belong here. Not only am I an alien. I am a damaging and destructive alien. I need to walk in the muddy ditch because I don’t belong among the trees, and the hills, and the creeks, and the grizzly bears. I don’t belong there and by walking through it I am damaging it. My feet are poisonous. My footprints are different than the deer’s tracks. My breaking a twig is different than a bear breaking a twig. My swimming in a lake is different than a fish swimming in the lake. I don’t belong there. That belief is a theological mistake.
          It is a theological mistake because Genesis tells me that I was made from the earth. In Genesis 2:7 we read “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God made “Adam” from the “Adamah”. It is a play on words. “Adam” means “human being”. “Adamah” means “earth”, or “ground”. It would be reasonable to translate Adam as “dusty” and say he was made from the dust of the ground. ‘Adam’, the first human being, represents all of us. We are all made from the earth. Through some process God made me from the dust of the earth.
          Theologically, I belong here. This is my home. My footsteps are no different than the deer’s tracks. When I break a twig it is no different than when a bear breaks a twig. When I swim in a lake it is no different than when a fish swims in a lake. I belong here. I am from the ground in the same way a flower is from the ground, or a bird is from the ground, or a frog is from the ground. The atoms in my body came from this earth. This is my home. This is how God made me. God made me a part of this place.

       St. Francis of Assisi understood this theological truth. In his Canticle of the Sun he calls the sun “Brother Sun”. And he calls the moon “Sister Moon”. He calls the earth his “sister” and “mother”. Francis knew he was created along with the sun, the moon, the earth, and the animals. God is the Father Creator… and that makes all creatures brothers and sisters. Francis knew he belonged here on earth among the streams, among the birds, and under the stars.    
          There is a name for the theological mistake that says we don’t belong here. It’s called “Gnosticism”. “Gnosticism” says that we don’t belong here. It actually says we’re trapped here. “Gnosticism” says the world was made by the devil. It says we are not home here. The Christians recognized this mistake.  Christianity is not about escaping life on this earth. It is about perfecting life on earth. “Thy Kingdom come”, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. At the end of the book of Revelation the heavenly city comes down to earth. When Jesus defeated death his actual body rose from the grave. There is a continuity between his earthly body and his resurrected body. Jesus’ earthly body was perfected- he didn’t leave his earthly body behind in the tomb. God cares about this place He has made. He cares about the creatures He has made. This place will have continuity when God finally brings about the new heaven and the new earth. This place will be made new the way we are made new as we follow Christ. We aren’t destroyed to be replaced by someone else, instead, we start along the road of perfection. It’s a long road.

          Many of us know the experience of walking outside and looking at the sky, maybe at the clouds or at a sunset, or at the stars and we suddenly feel at home, and as if all is right. Maybe it’s a cool breeze on a hot day. Maybe it is swimming in the ocean. At some point we feel something that pulls at us.  Psalm 19 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” The Bible’s answer to why we feel at peace when we take a walk along the river is that we are hearing our sister the river declare the Glory of God- it’s no different than a choir singing praise to God. Our hearts recognize the song, and the atoms of our body want to sing along.
          The main reason the creation is suffering so badly is that we have been seduced to believe that this is not our home. It’s the old Gnostic mistake. This is a place we are trapped. It is no longer “creation” that we are a part of, it is an “environment” we have been dropped into as aliens. If the tree is not our sister, but only a natural resource, then we don’t really need to worry about cutting her down.  The less we feel at home here, the more danger the world is in. When we recognize that we are made from the earth and that God asked us to tend to the garden he has planted, then the creation begins to heal.

          My friend’s daughter came to my parent’s house to visit one day. We sat outside around the fire in the backyard. My friend’s 3 year old daughter looked up at the tree and asked what the red things in the tree were. We told her they were apples. She asked us why they didn’t have any stickers and looked suspiciously at us saying that apples come from a drawer in the fridge, not a tree. In 2010, there was a shift. For the first time in human history there were more human beings living in cities than in the country. There are now less humans watching their food grow in the fields and on trees. There are less humans who raise cows and chickens, and more who eat them. We are becoming less connected to other creatures and to the very soil God used to make us.
            The Bible tells us we have an intimate bond with other creatures. In Paul’s letter to the Romans (ch 8) we read, “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In some mysterious way the creation shares our desire for freedom and perfection. Human beings everywhere share the feeling that something isn’t quite right. There are many names for that inner feeling of lack. Paul tells us that Creation feels it with us.
          In today’s Psalm (96) Creation is invited to join in praising God. “11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it.12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;  let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” They are called to rejoice because God is coming to put things right. He is coming to bring justice. God is coming to right the wrongs. The book of Revelation (11:18) even says judgement will come to those who destroy the earth. God’s justice is about restoration. God’s story isn’t just about saving human souls. God’s story is about restoring creation. God’s desire and love is for the squirrel and tree and river, just as it is for you and for me. God’s saving work is bigger than we imagine. Psalm 96 is often sung at Christmas and it is precisely because that is what the incarnation is about. God entered into history in Jesus Christ to bring salvation- or we might say ‘restoration’- not just for human beings, but for our fellow creatures as well. And part of that restoration is calling a people who once again remember that they are made from the soil, and that the bird is their sister, and that at the very beginning God entrusted to care for the garden.



1 comment:

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