Jan 25 2021

Models of Dominion

“We will not fight to save what we do not love.” –Barbara Brown Taylor

Throughout January I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new collection of sermons called Always a Guest.  Early on in this compilation there is a sermon called “The Dominion of Love.”  In this inspiring homily Barbara explores what God might mean in the Genesis 1:26 command for humans to “have dominion” over Creation.  She notes that for many years the predominant view was “despotism.”  Humans had the right to do with Creation whatever they chose.  In this view, everything was put here for human benefit and disposal.  Eventually many people of faith came to see this dominion to imply they are “stewards” of Creation or “divine servants” who have been entrusted with the care of the earth and all its inhabitants.  The idea of being stewards means the earth does not belong to you or I but is rather on loan to us.

Many people of faith have grown quite comfortable with the idea of humans maintaining the role of stewards of the earth.  Barbara, however, suggests there may be other models to consider, ones that bring us closer to the real meaning of dominion.  She says the idea of “stewards” is “awfully utilitarian” and claims that when we are stewards we “act from duty, not love, which may not be enough for this warming world of ours.”   An alternative model she presents for our consideration is that of “priest.’  A priest is someone who sees in the world “an altar laid with God’s good gifts, just waiting for someone to bless them and hold them up to heaven again.”  You and I have the privilege and honor of being “priests” when it comes to Creation.  This gives the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer a whole new meaning.

Next Barbara offers the model of “neighbor,” noting that Jesus taught us we are to love and care for our neighbor.  At this point in the sermon she raises a series of questions: “Do only two-legged ones qualify, or do my neighbors include the four-legged ones, the winged ones, the ones with fins and fur?  Does God’s compassion stop with human suffering, or does it extend to every creature in need of mercy, especially those with no voice of their own to cry out for help?”  It should be clear that we are to be caring neighbors not only to humans but to all God has made.

The next model Barbara suggests is that of “kin.” She points here to the interconnectedness of all of Creation as revealed in the Genesis 1 narrative.  There is, in fact, a commonality in all created things.  The web of life is undeniable.  This commonality should motivate us to be more considerate of the rest of Creation when it comes to having dominion.

The final model offered in this amazing sermon is that of “lovers.”  Barbara Brown Taylor says “We are made in the image of the First Lover, the divine one, who brought this whole shebang into being.  If it is true that we have been put here to live in that image, then the only dominion we can possibly exercise is the dominion of love—without condition, without distinction, without self-interest or secret devotion to any other dominion, including the one in which the value of all things is reduced to their price.”  In the end she concludes, “We are here because God made us, and if God made us, we live by love.  We are here to preside over the dominion of love in God’s name.”

It will likely be hard for a lot of us to get away from the use of the word  “stewards” but the models of  “priests,” “neighbors,” “kin,” and “lovers” should certainly be incorporated into the concept.  Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I think “lovers” is probably the best way to understand our role as those who have been given dominion over the earth.  God created the world in love.  God created us in love.  Now God expects us to serve and care for the world in love.  Anything short of love will not do.

–Chuck


Sep 28 2020

Heaven on Earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…”  Revelation 21:1

Recently I read N. T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  It was a challenging read in more ways than one.  Wright, one of the world’s top biblical scholars, calls into question many longstanding beliefs about life after death.  He argues that not enough attention has been given to the New Testament teaching that there will be a new earth one day and that believers will reside there.  Heaven and earth are joined together when believers experience their bodily resurrection.

Wright’s beliefs cause him to give the earth a greater role in eschatology (the doctrine of last things) than you typically find.  They also help make a strong case for environmental responsibility.  Pointing to Paul’s words in Romans 8 where it says the whole creation is waiting with “eager longing” not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed, Wright says this includes “the unveiling of those redeemed humans through whose stewardship creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made.  And since Paul makes it quite clear that those who believe in Jesus Christ…are already God’s children, are already themselves saved, this stewardship cannot be something to be postponed for the ultimate future.  It must begin here and now.”  This, he says elsewhere, is in part implied when Christians pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Wright adds, “God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.  It will last all the way into God’s new world.  In fact, it will be enhanced there.”

If we accept the fact that the earth plays a vital role in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, it reminds us that the world we live in is very important to God and should be important to us.  This affects how we live in and treat the world.  Wright says “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”  It would seem that we may well play a role in God ushering in the “new earth.”  Wright goes on to say, “If it is true, as I have argued, that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced.  This is not an extra to the church’s mission.  It is central.”

I have long believed that environmental stewardship is a responsibility to be shared by all people of faith.  I found biblical basis for this primarily in the Book of Genesis.  It was not until reading N. T. Wright’s book that I saw God’s plan for the earth at the end of things as an additional source of motivation for caring for this planet.  One day we will reside on a “new earth.”  God will transform the earth so that we might abide here forever.  If Wright is correct, God’s plan for that transformation may well include us here and now.  Although it is hard for me to wrap my mind around this concept, I find it truly exciting.  What do you think?

–Chuck


Jun 29 2020

In Praise of Insects

One of the books I read this month is Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson.  It is a very interesting book and gave me a much greater appreciation for insects and the role they play in God’s Creation.  There certainly are a lot of insects on earth.  Scientists estimate that there are close to a million different kinds!  These six-legged creatures make up a huge percentage of the world’s living organisms.  It’s a good thing they are there as they provide many valuable services for both humans and other creatures.  The author of the book states “…we humans rely on insects getting their job done.  We need them for pollination, decomposition, and soil formation; to serve as food for other animals, keep harmful organisms in check, disperse seeds, help us in our research, and inspire us with their smart solutions.  Insects are nature’s little cogs that make the world go round.” 

There are around thirty different orders of insects in the world.  These include butterflies, beetles, wasps, flies, dragonflies, termites, and orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets).  Other than butterflies and a few beetles like the lightning bug, most people do not look favorably on insects.  They appear to be little more than pests to a lot of folks.  But as already noted, insects play a vital role in our lives.  Sverdrup-Thygeson notes that it is not easy to put a price tag on the services insects provide.  She says “the annual contribution of the many pollinating insects is estimated to be worth around $577 billion.  Decomposition and soil formation are estimated to be worth four times as much as pollination in total.”

Unfortunately the insect population is declining worldwide.  This is due to a number of factors.  Those most frequently cited are “increasing land use, intensive farming and forestry practices, pesticides, and the decline in natural remnant habitats, as well as climate change.”  It has been estimated that one-quarter of all insects may be under the threat of extinction.

I learned a lot about insects by reading Buzz, Sting, Bite and if you are interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures and all they do to enhance life on earth, I highly recommend you read it.  The book left me marveling at the amazing web of life God created.  Marvelous, indeed, are the works of the Lord!  We should all give thanks for insects and learn to appreciate them more.  They are worthy of our admiration, as King Solomon recognized, and protection.

A Canadian insect researcher once said, “The world is rich in small wonders—but so poor in eyes that see them.”  I pray God will give us all the eyes to see the wonders of the insect world and all the other small creatures around us.

–Chuck


Feb 28 2020

A Call to Gratitude

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God…”  Psalm 50:14

During the season of Lent I usually “give up” something (like desserts) and also try to “take up” something.  I’ve chosen this year to read a number of books.  One of these is Inhabiting Eden: Christians, The Bible, and the Ecological Crisis by Patricia K. Tull.  Early in this book Tull writes about gratitude and Creation.  She says “Gratitude is a most appropriate response for us as inhabitants of this world, a home we neither bought nor paid for nor could ever have designed.”  She goes on to say, “We were intended to draw sustenance from creation’s bounty.  With each breath, we take in God’s provision of air; with each drink, the precious water supply; with each bit of bread, the manna for one more day of love and service.  We can begin to uphold the world that upholds us by recognizing these gifts with gratitude, especially our place in an ordered world that is full and fundamentally good, and our vocation to preserve the goodness and health of this living, teeming, exuberant world.”

I am one who appreciates, admires and marvels over God’s Creation but I’m afraid I’m not always as grateful as I should be.  I fear I may at times take it all for granted.  During Lent (and hopefully beyond) I intend to practice gratitude for the many gifts of God found in Creation. I want to not only notice the flowers, birds, trees and other gifts of God in nature but to give God thanks for them.  Surely, failure to do so is a sin.  The Bible says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17)  Yes, all of Creation is a gift of God and gifts should be acknowledged with gratitude.

The practice of gratitude is a much needed discipline.  It keeps us humble.  It keeps us connected to God.  It brings us joy.  I also happen to believe that gratitude for Creation is a key to caring for the world God has made.  If we are not mindful and grateful for what God has made we will not be prone to work for its preservation.  We will not seek to protect that which we are not grateful for.  Perhaps at the heart of the ecological crisis is the sin of ingratitude.

I hope you will join me during this Lenten season in striving to be more grateful for the work of God’s hands.  Try to find at least one thing in nature each day to give thanks for.  Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at the bounty of gifts that are there.  There simply is no shortage of God’s blessings to behold!

–Chuck


Oct 23 2019

Bad News for the Birds

Have you heard the news?  A recent study has indicated that birds in North America are in trouble.  In the past fifty years the total number of birds has declined nearly 30%.  That means over one in four birds have disappeared in North America.  The study, published by the journal Science, reveals that close to three billion birds have been lost during just a portion of my lifetime.  This is tragic news!  Everyone knows that birds play an important role in the various ecosystems they abide in.  They are an instrumental part in the web of life.  Thankfully, not all species have experienced decline but every biome in the United States and Canada has been affected.  The populations of waterfowl, raptors and turkeys have increased significantly.  That is not the case for major families like sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches.  Many of our most beloved birds are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Ken Rosenberg, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says the bird losses “are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife.  And that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”

What are the reasons behind the dramatic decline in the bird population?  There are several.  Habitat loss and the widespread use of harmful pesticides are two primary factors.  A decline in the insect population has affected those species that depend on insects for food.  Other causes include climate change, detrimental land use policy, and the weakening of wildlife protection policies.  Even things like window collisions and cat predation have been pointed to as contributing factors for decline.  Knowing the causes for decline is important but doing something about them will require significant effort and changes.  Do we care enough to make these changes?  I believe people of faith should care enough.

About the time I first read the reports about the loss of three billion birds in North America I was studying the story of Noah and the Flood.  I can’t read that story without remembering that God was insistent that the flood not destroy all wildlife.  God instructed Noah to build an ark not just to preserve humans, but all creatures as well.  I found Genesis 7:2-3 to be very interesting.  God told Noah, “Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.”  It would seem that God made a special effort to preserve the birds—seven pairs of “every kind of bird” were to be placed in the ark.  Could God have a special love and concern for birds?  It would not surprise me if that was the case at all.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus paid careful attention to the birds and encouraged us to do so as well.  Now, especially now, would seem to be a good time to do so.

–Chuck


Jun 28 2019

Extinction Is Forever

It seems like every other day I come across another discouraging report concerning the environment.  Recently I read about an assessment made by an United Nations study.  It indicated that “humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as 1 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival.”  According to Brad Plumer, “in most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20% or more, mainly over the past century.  With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate ‘unprecedented in human history.’  At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in.”

The United Nations report should be a wake-up call for all of us.  Humans are accelerating the rate of extinction by rates unseen before.  This will ultimately affect all of us.  I happen to believe that people of faith should be particularly concerned about this trend.  The Creation story in the Bible affirms the goodness of all that God made. Genesis 1:31 says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  There is a divine reason for the existence of every plant or animal.  All play an important role in the web of life.  In First Corinthian 12 the apostle Paul makes a case that the church is like a human body.  He says all the parts have a role to play; all the parts are important.  I would argue that the same thing is true in Creation.  All that has been made is good, is essential for the well-being of the larger body, and has a role to play.  Paul says in the church no one has the right to say to another part “I don’t need you.”  In the same way, we have no right to say that we don’t need certain plants or animals.  That is not our call.  Surely we are humble enough to admit that God is wiser than us.  If we believe the hand of God is behind all living creatures we should be willing to fight for their protection.

A few days ago I found a prayer in a book called Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation that would be good for all of us to pray:  “Lord, you love life; we owe our existence to you.  Give us reverence for life and love for every creature.  Sharpen our senses so that we shall recognize the beauty and also the longing of your creation, and, as befits your children, treat our fellow creatures of the animal and plant kingdoms with love as our brothers and sisters, in readiness for your great day, when you will make all things new.”  It seems well past time that we began to take species extinction seriously.  If we claim to love and serve the Creator, we will love what has been created too and be willing to do what we can to protect all species.

–Chuck