Finished my second book of my sabbatical "Earth Community Earth Ethics" by Larry L. Rasmussen.
I got a lot out of this book and am hoping to integrate what I've read here into prayers and liturgies and actions for the congregation when I get back.
The author names clearly the divide we've made as humans between ourselves and everything else, making ourselves the most important and only consideration, and disregarding the lives of other creatures on this earth. This is a false divide, however, since our well-being is dependent on the plant and animal life on our planet. He returns again and again to Genesis when all the animals are made out of Earth/dirt, including Adam--the animal named after the Earth "Adama" and made in the image of God. We are all of the same substance, and this backed up in science when we see how closely human and animal DNA is, as well as how cells work in all living things, plants included.
Our false division of our life over and against all other life has allowed us or encouraged us to abuse nature, the Earth, other living things for our own benefit and their extreme detriment and even extinction. This has been the idolatry of putting ourselves in the center instead of God.
When we put God at the center, we treat all living things the way God does--helping them flourish and encouraging them to multiply. This is what it means that we are made in the image of God. We get to assist God in making sure that creation is nurtured and growing.
One point that especially caught my attention was about the creation story. Humans have often seen ourselves as the pinnacle of creation since we were created last out of all the creatures. However, the author points out that the last thing created was Sabbath, and that Sabbath is the pinnacle of creation. Yet, Sabbath, or a time of rest, is something that we have forgotten that would do us and all of creation some good. Sabbath was not just meant as a rest for humans, but also our animals and land were to rest. It is good for all creation and humankind to rest, and to stop for a moment working and taking from the rest of creation, to listen to God, and listen to each other, the plants and animals included.
Another point that touched me was that we could not survive one moment without "nature," but that it would survive better without us and actually has survived for most of the Earth's existence. Therefore, this Earth was not made for us. It has other purposes. Whether we will survive will depend on our ability to envision a new way of living as part of this Creation instead of constantly taking from it, treating it as a dump.
The author believes that our faith will aid us in the times ahead. Our faith helps prepare us for big changes, whether we decide to change how we relate to the Earth, or our Earth changes so much we have no choice. It is helpful because our faith helps us express our yearning "to see things whole and sacred."(p. 178) Our faith helps us to envision the sacred, helps us find the words and images that express our deepest hopes. Our faith helps us understand our place, where we've come from and where we are going, and that we will never be alone on that journey, even though we don't necessarily know the path we will take. Our faith can give us the courage to do something, even though we don't have all the answers or even know much of the territory at all.
Martin Luther's Theology of the Cross is referenced for one possible way forward. Luther saw the presence of God in every creature and all of creation. He saw the world and all of creation as God wearing masks, God's very presence in our midst, disguised as a grain of wheat or a bird or another person, at the same time that the creatures' essence was also there. But he saw the most compelling glimpse of God in Jesus because of his compassion--his "suffering-with." Com=with, passion=suffering. The theory is that only one that has suffered all can overcome all. Because of Jesus' suffering, he is truly suffering with all of creation that is hurt, damaged, destroyed. God is found in the beauty of creation but also in the pollution and the destruction of the earth. Whenever we hurt the Earth, we hurt God. But with God, it never ends at death and destruction. We can look there for the power of life and renewal. Our compassion for the Earth as earth-creatures made in God's image, we suffer with the earth, but we do not lose hope. Instead we envision with God the healing of the world and we are inspired to go forward in a different way.
The reader is then guided in a vision going forward to spur us in hope. One of the first steps is about community. We need to know our neighbors, both the human and nonhuman ones. We need to know each other so that we can work together. The author advocates "designing industrial systems in tune with natures economy." (p. 326) He cites an example already at work in Denmark in which a power plant recycles its steam heat to other businesses and homes in town, a refinery removes the sulfur from its exhaust and sells it to a chemical company that can use it, a pharmaceutical company gives its nitrogen-rich slurry to local farmers who use it for fertilizer, farmers then grow biomass for the pharmaceutical company who then give back the yeast cake from their fermentation vats to the farmers who feed it to their pigs. This town has found a way to take what was waste from each of their industries and help fill a need for others in the community, basically mirroring nature's way of recycling everything back into the system for the good of all. The author offers some other ways of expressing values that take into account all of creation and many other examples around the world of communities working together for the good of every member of the community, human, animal, or plant. But he says, there is no one single answer for every place. We all have to get together with those around us and figure out what is best for our community and then take action, working together.
I decided that one action I will take after reading this book, is to offer my homemade laundry and dishwashing detergent to those around me. Commercially made detergents must be shipped from far away. They weigh a lot which takes a lot of fuel to ship. They are full of perfumes that cause cancer. They are expensive to buy. I will offer my detergents, which cost me pennies to make, but are safe for the environment and for today's washing machines. I will first offer free samples so people can make sure they like them. After that, I will barter my detergent for goods that others offer me. This removes us from the consumer economy. It also builds a bond of community.
Also, after reading this book, I biked 4.3 miles to pick up my son from preschool and 4.3 miles back home! We have to start somewhere.