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.


Aug 7 2013

How Then Shall We Rule?

rainbow and fallsWhile flying across country yesterday for a photo trip I had a chance to do some reading.  One of the books I read from was When Heaven and Nature Sing by Edward R. Brown. In the part I read he addressed a biblical passage I have struggled with a bit, Psalm 8:6-8.  In this passage the Psalmist says concerning humans, “Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou has put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.”  In previous entries I have discussed the meaning of the word “dominion” in Genesis 1 and indicated that this implied caring for the earth instead of ruling over it. Does Psalm 8 contradict what I’ve said?

Destruction Falls 526Brown tackles that question in his book. He say that before we conclude that humans have ultimate power over Creation we need to remember how Psalm 8 both begins and ends. Verse 1 says “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens.”  The last verse of the psalm echoes verse one: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”  Brown calls these the “Divine Bookends.”  He says whatever is said in the middle of the psalm must be bracketed by these words. He believes that they “affirm God’s control and sovereignty over us, his people” and that “our authority over God’s creation begins and ends with God’s authority over us.”  That certainly makes sense.  I believe it was Ernest T. Campbell who once preached a sermon on this subject and concluded that we may be “over nature” but that we always remain “under God.”  We are responsible to Him for how we rule over the rest of Creation.

plants 564Brown explores the ramifications of this.  He says, “The actions, purposes and goals we pursue in our management of God’s creation must reflect God’s purposes for us.  We should be pursuing God’s goals for creation and we can best do that by looking at the goals God has as he cares for us.  It’s like a creation-wide version of the golden rule:  Not just that we should ‘do unto others as we want them to do unto us’ but that we should care for all of creation as God cares for us.”  He goes on to write, “God’s care for us is in every case almost the opposite of how we act toward creation. God gives; we take.  God seeks our best. Those God cares for blossom and flourish under his care.  We, by contrast, seek from creation what is best for ourselves.  Creation withers and dies under our hands.”

elk 327There can be no denying that the Bible teaches that God has given humans a special role to play in His Creation but in the end God must determine how we fulfill that special role, not us.  It should be our goal to rule the earth as God would.  That means that in relating to the earth, as in all of our other relationships and actions, we ought to pause and ask “What would God (or Jesus) do?” before doing something.  Do you think things would be different today if all of God’s children had done that through history?  I do.


(I am blessed to be in western Washington this week with R120’s Michael Boone.  All of the images shown here were taken today.)

Jul 24 2013

“Fellowship Workers”

_CES2096I recently came upon a prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer that should be of interest to those who are concerned about being good stewards of Creation.  It is a short prayer that might be said on a regular basis.  It reads, “Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellowship workers in your creation.   Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

WC3850There are several things I like about this prayer.  One of the great things about it is that it reminds us of the true meaning of the word “dominion.”  The biblical call found in Genesis 1:28 for humans to have dominion over the earth has certainly been misunderstood by many over the centuries.  This misunderstanding has led to the horrible abuse of God’s Creation in many instances.  In the prayer found above we catch a glimpse of the true meaning of dominion; it involves our being “fellowship workers” in God’s Creation.  Our calling is to work with and in Creation for its good.  When we do this together the Creation becomes a better place for us and for those who will come after us.

killdeer-eggsAnother thing I like about this prayer is the recognition that we need “wisdom and reverence” to do what we are supposed to do.  We need wisdom because it is not always clear exactly what we should do or how.  We are called to be caretakers of God’s Creation but at times we need the Creator’s help in knowing how best to take care of what He has made.  We also must do our work with an attitude of reverence.  We revere the One who has called us to serve in His Garden and we must also show reverence for the work of His hands.  If we fail to do either of these things we will likely fail in our fundamental calling to tend to the earth.  Reverence for both God and Creation are essential.  This prayer helps us to remember this.

HS3651Finally, I like this prayer because it serves as a reminder that our actions have consequences.  If we do not seek God’s wisdom and live in reverence of the Creator and the Creation we may very well abuse the resources of nature.  We will be more likely to cause harm where we are supposed to be bringing help and healing.  This abuse and harm, as we have clearly learned, comes back to bite us.  The earth alone does not suffer when we abuse it, so do we.  Furthermore, it is not just we who live today that are affected by this abuse but also those who will follow us.  As “fellowship workers” we have to be concerned about more than just ourselves.  We must tend to the earth in such a way that there will be plenty of resources left for the generations still to come–resources that will not only sustain and nurture them but lead them to worship and praise the Giver of all good gifts.

For a short prayer, this gem from the Book of Common Prayer, has a lot of important reminders for us.  For that reason I encourage you to become familiar with it and to use it on a regular basis as part of your prayer regimen.  It can’t hurt and it has the potential to do a world (and the world) a lot of good.


(I took the top image at Cumberland Island National Seashore, the second image at Custer State Park, the third image of killdeer eggs at Indian Mountain State Park, and the bottom image at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area.)

Feb 7 2010

Fulfilling Our Role

“Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” Genesis 1:15

bison 031Spending the past four days in Yellowstone National Park has been an incredible experience for me.  We’ve had great weather and more great photo ops than I could ever have imagined.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds.

So far the highlight has been all the wildlife sightings.  We’ve seen and photographed wolves, coyotes, bison, elk, pronghorn antelope, moose, bighorn sheep, and even a bobcat. Watching the wildlife each day it is apparent that every animal has its place in the Yellowstone ecosystem and that the role each animal plays is an important one.  The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone has verified that.

I can’t say exactly what God’s purpose for every animal is but I am convinced that each creature fulfills its purpose.  The big question is whether we humans d0.  We learn in Genesis that one of our divinely appointed roles is to care for the rest of Creation.  We are to “tend the garden” and practice a dominion that is characterized by wisdom and love.  In short, we are to pursue “Creation care.”

In Rob’s recent entry he talked about creating a garden behind his home in California.  This is one example of bighorn sheep 162how we can fulfill our purpose.  Working to set apart or protect places like Yellowstone National Park is another.

Every single one of us can and should practice Creation care.  Whether we are old or young, rich or poor, male or female, live in the country or in the city, we can all do something to clean up, preserve or protect the environment God has bestowed upon us.

The animals here in Yellowstone are doing what they are supposed to do.  It is my hope and prayer that we Christians will strive to do the same.


Jan 10 2010

Practicing Dominion

cardinal 368Over the weekend we got about four inches of snow here in southeast Kentucky.  Along with the snow have come some very frigid temperatures.   This combination has resulted in an abundance of birds at my feeder.  Yesterday there was an incredible variety of birds dropping by to fill up on sunflower seeds.  Even birds that do not normally come to the feeder paid a visit.  I took advantage of the situation and took a lot of photographs.

When snow covers the ground the seeds I provide help the birds survive.  I am glad that I can help out.  In fact, in some ways I feel like I’m supposed to.  When humans were given “dominion” over the animals in the Creation story I believe that this “dominion” included caring for the animals.  I like to think that by feeding the birds I am practicing dominion. 

chickadee 268I can take this a step further and say that by feeding the birds I am partnering with God.  Recently I alluded to the verse of Scripture where Jesus says “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26)   God has created many sources of food for the birds.  There are times—like when it snows a lot—that I can assist God by helping get this food to the birds, making it more readily assessable.  In my understanding, this, too, is a part of practicing dominion.

We live in a world where we need more people to practice dominion from a biblical perspective. Unfortunately, there is far more at stake than simply birds being fed.  Due to things like urban expansion, the widespread use of chemicals, and destruction of the world’s rain forests an alarming number of animals are in danger of becoming extinct.  All of these animals are creatures God deliberately chose to make.  If they are to survive folks like you and me are going to have to find way of partnering with God to care for and preserve them.  There is such a way; it is called practicing dominion.


Jul 8 2009

Creature Care

cn-fawns-308Last night I had the privilege of presenting a series of digital “slide shows” to about 250 individuals at Camp Nathanael.  Camp Nathanael is a Christian camp located in Perry County, Kentucky.  Two friends of mine, Bob and Carol Murr, have lived and worked at the camp for several years as the camp’s host/hostess.  They are missionaries who have devoted their lives to serving God in a Christian camp setting. 

Bob and Carol are also licensed wildlife rehabilitators.  Presently they are working with a whitetail doe and four orphaned fawns (two of these are pictured above), three baby raccoons, a baby coyote, a barred owl and a red-tailed hawk.  Watching them work with these animals it is obvious that they love what they do and love the animals they work with.  Once they come under their care each animal receives a name.  Bob and Carol consider their work as wildlife rehabilitators to be part of their ministry.  They even use the animals at camp to help teach both children and adults spiritual lessons.

Caring for wildlife might just be the oldest profession there is.  In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were given the responsibility of naming and caring for all the creatures that God had made.  God said they were to have “dominion” over them.  Unfortunately many have misunderstood the true nature of this word and interpreted it to mean “do with whatever you like.”  That was never God’s intention.

Commenting on Genesis 1:28, Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, notes “The dominance is that of a shepherd who cares for, tends, and feeds the animals.”  Brueggemann goes on to say “…the task of ‘dominion’ does not have to do with exploitation and abuse.  It has to do with securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition.”    I get the impression that Bob and Carol Murr are doing just this and for that they are to be commended. 

–Chuck Summers