Last week’s sermon told the story of decreation. It’s a word coined by author Bill McKibben. McKibben suggests that we’ve been “running Genesis backward” to the point that we’ve fundamentally changed our planet. We no longer live on planet earth, but a new, tougher planet called Eaarth, that’s Eaarth spelled with two A’s. In the sermon, we took each day of creation and looked at how we’ve undone—or decreated—it.
Man! That was one depressing sermon. I’m glad that’s over! Except…did anybody count how many days of creation we considered last week? We talked about day and night (day 1), sky (day 2), oceans (day 3), plants and seasons (day 4), and every living creature in the water, in the air, and on ground (day 5). What didn’t we talk about? Oh, yeah. God’s crowning creation: humanity. Today we get Day 6. Sorry, guys. There’s still a little more bad news to share. Decreation takes a toll on human beings, too.
For instance, as I mentioned last week, the effects of climate change contributed to an increase of 40 million hungry people in 2008. That means that today, fully 1/6 of the earth’s inhabitants are hungry; that’s over 1 billion people. Hungry.
The effects of climate change on the world’s poor are especially devastating. For us, it’s about $4-a-gallon gas, paying more for food, and periodic low lake levels at Allatoona and Lanier. For the 430 million people in the world who live below the poverty line—that’s people who make less than $1.25 a day—it’s about walking long distances for water; it’s an increase in diseases like dengue fever, malaria, and cholera; it’s about having little food; it’s about rioting for what little food there is. How does 2/3 of the populace in Africa who do not even have electricity help save earth’s resources? What do they give up to save the planet?
That’s perhaps the most painful irony of climate change—the people who suffer most from its effects are not the people who created the problem. Greenhouse emissions are almost completely the doing of industrialized nations…and yet, it is inhabitants of the developing world who are bearing the brunt of the effects of those emissions. Most of the world’s climate change refugees—projected to be 700 million by midcentury—will be poor.
I’m going to stop with the statistics…because I know how much you all care for the earth. I know you’re doing what you can for earth-care. I know you take stewardship of God’s creation seriously, very seriously.
I’ve shared all these statistics, though, because it’s important to have our eyes wide open about what’s happening in and to the world. As Bill McKibben says, “Hope has to be real.” Because our lives in the developed world are so easy, it’s also easy to put blinders on, to save ourselves from seeing what’s happening in the rest of the world. If we are to act the world into well-being, we’ve got to take seriously just how sick and fragile it is.
So, how do we begin to act the world into well-being? That is, how do we express our love for earth?
One place to begin is to take Genesis 1:26-28 seriously, especially the part about human beings being created in God’s image. I wonder how the world might change if we really took the time to see God in other people. Seeing God in our family members, co-workers, fellow traffic-jammers, yes, that’s important….but also seeing God in the person begging at the interstate on-ramp, or the child with the distended belly and gaunt face in the news clip, or the person lying on a mat in a far away clinic with a disfiguring disease.
Several months ago, we started including “Ecumenical Prayer Calendar” in the weekly etidings. Have you noticed? The reason for the weekly list of countries is to remind us that we are not alone, that the world is full of people, each of whom is created in the divine image.
This thing about seeing others as if they are created in the image of God…it’s not always easy. It takes a while (a long while with some people!). For Thomas Merton, it happened one day in downtown Louisville in 1958—16 years after his final profession as a monk. Here’s how it happened for him:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.
I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.
How might our thinking about our caring for the earth change if we considered how what we do affects someone living in Bangladesh? How might our use of earth’s resources change if we considered how their use affected someone living in Ethiopia, someone whom God loves, someone created in the image of God, someone shining like the sun?
Someone like Brazilian Juan Antonio. “If good rains do not come, he says, he will pack his bag, kiss his wife and two children goodbye, and join the annual exodus of young men leaving hot, dry, rural northeast Brazil for the biofuel fields in the south.” (35)
Someone like Bangladeshi villager Selina: “We do not feel the cold in the rainy season. We used to need blankets but now we don’t. There is extreme uncertainty of weather. It makes it very hard to farm and we cannot plan. The storms are increasing and the tides now come right up to our houses.” (35)
Someone like Tekmadur Majsi, a villager in Nepal: “Small floods once a decade or so are routine, but now they’ve grown larger and more common. ‘We always used to have a little rain each month, but now when there is rain it’s different. It’s more concentrated and intense. It means crop yields are going down.” (35)
How might we change our lives, our pattern of consumption, our actions for earth’s well-being, if we practiced the African concept of UBUNTU. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes UBUNTU this way: “It is about the essence of being human…It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanise you, I inexorably dehumanise myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging.” (Desmond Tutu Archbishop, Emeritus of Cape Town)
How might our feelings about and care for the planet change if we saw everyone—every single person on the planet—“shining like the sun?”
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2012
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind 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, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he craeted them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to the, “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 teh air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”