– contributed by the Rev. Peter Faass, Christ Episcopal Church, Shaker Heights, Ohio
Gen. 1:1-2:4; Canticle 13; 2 Corinth. 13:11-13; Matt. 28:16-20
Friday’s Business section of The Plain Dealer featured a top of the fold article titled, “Using gas as a sales gimmick: Marketers know giveaways will draw struggling drivers.” A large color photograph accompanied the article and showed the Cavaliers mascot Moondog at a downtown gas station helping with a gasoline giveaway promotion. Actually Moondog wasn’t actually pumping this free gas, which would have been unusual enough in this era of self-service stations. Instead he was washing the front window of the car being gassed up, squeegee in hand, an image equally as unusual mind you, and harking back to the days when an attendant actually came out to your car as you drove up and hit that black rubber hose that caused the bell to ring in the station, notifying the attendant you were there. In those bygone days, they paid real attention to your car at a gas station – gas, oil, windshield wiper fluid, maybe even kicked the tires to check the air, so that your car was ready to hit the road refreshed and renewed.
Let’s hope that Moondog has paid as fine attention to the Cav’s roadworthiness this weekend as the team meets up with the Celtics in Boston tonight as he did to the car in that photo–op!
The writer of the article wrote this; “The event [of giving away $30 of free gas to 150 customers] was an example of what you might call playing the ultimate gas card. Madison Avenue is finding a way to create opportunity out of a crisis.” The crisis of course being the record $4.00 a gallon regular gasoline we are on the verge of paying in this country. The writer continued, “corporations are tapping into the anger consumers feel over paying higher prices to drive . . . people feel it isn’t fair . . . and here comes a company [like Shell or Donoto’s Pizza or Popular Mechanics magazine] that says ‘We’re going to fix it for you and make you feel good about something that makes you feel bad.’”
Fix it! Fix what, I want to know? I mean I think its okay that these 150 folks got some free gas – depending on the size of the car about 2/3’s of a tank full by my estimation. But what really has happened is that their addiction to cheap – or in this case free gas – was perpetuated for but a few more days. . The price of the gas hasn’t changed – it’s still going to be $4.00 when their tanks get empty – and the addiction still remains. There’s been no remedy or amendment of behavior or even a change in perception. Like an alcoholic with the DT’s these drivers received a fix, but nothing was fixed as far as the looming sub-crisis over oil is concerned. And that feel good high is going to end up like all other highs, the morning after just isn’t pretty.
Trust me, the last thing we Americans need right now is further manipulation by Madison Avenue or Wall St. and the corporate world to give us fixes so that we can get temporary feel good highs about our addiction to cheap fuel. What we need is an amendment of life.
I referred to the oil crisis a moment ago as a sub-crisis, because the crisis over oil is but a sub category of a greater crisis facing the world; the crisis of the rapid deterioration and in some cases failing environment. Along with the rising temperatures of global warming, the threat posed by the melting polar caps and rising seas, the depletions of the ozone layer, the dramatic changes in weather patterns and increased intensity and frequency of violent storms, the loss of species, the world shortage of food, the rise of illnesses like cancer and asthma, droughts and the shortage of potable water, the oil crisis is inextricably intertwined with the environment and how we humans treat this fragile earth our island home.
Humanity is in the process of destroying the earth.
And sadly much of the rationale for the ongoing abuse and destruction of the earth finds its genesis in Genesis; in fact in the very story we heard this morning. And it all hinges on the misunderstanding – or manipulation – of one word: dominion commonly understood as domination: the control, power over and subjugation of one entity over some other weaker entity.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over [it].”
To often humankind has seen in these words of God in Genesis the scriptural imperative to use and abuse the earth, her resources and all its creatures wantonly: to dominate it to the point of destruction. In our own time this wanton abuse is more familiarly known as conspicuous consumption, consumerism and materialism, and the lust for wealth and power.
A Lutheran theologian I heard speak recently called the wanton abuse of the environment by humankind through our lust for all these “isms” as the, “I got mine and too bad for you” approach to life. Not much loving your neighbor as yourself in that belief is there?
Instead of gimmicks, deceptions, the feeding of addictions and perpetuating egregious behaviors and biblical interpretations, we need a radical new approach to our way of life. And that begins with a new understanding of what exactly God intended when God gave humanity dominion over the creation.
Eugene Peterson in his recent new translation of the bible called The Message offers us a more accurate meaning of what God’s intention was in turning over the creation to humanity. He writes, “God created human beings; he created them godlike. Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill the earth! Take charge! Be responsible for [it].’”
To be responsible for the creation is a huge theological paradigm shift from having domination over it. Being responsible indicates care and nurture. It indicates that one is liable to give an account for one’s actions in the discharge of an action or a trust. In The Message translation humanity is told by God to treat with respect and dignity this fragile earth, and that God will hold us accountable for how we discharge the trust we that we have been given.
So how are we doing with that responsibility?
As the faith community we have an opportunity to turn the environmental crisis into an opportunity for ourselves and others; an opportunity to see the world in which we live with new eyes. In even the worst crises in the scripture, God always offered hope – opportunity – for the people to redeem the situation. Within our current crisis with the environment lies an opportunity to restore seeing the creation as holy, so that we might honor the trust for the creation’s care that we have been given by God.
As individuals it can seem daunting to even begin and try to honor this holy trust. Yet as in all that God holds us accountable for we must try, try in the knowledge that we are sustained and accompanied by God in all those efforts.
Writing in The New York Times a few weeks ago, Michael Pollan wrote an article on the environment titled “Why Bother? Looking for a reason to go green.” Pollan gives what I believe is a wonderful reason, rich in theological sub-text, for bothering to care about the crisis of the environment.
He writes, “[So why should you bother to go green?] If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in our culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire a moral standing to demand changes in others – from other people, other corporations, even other countries.”
To Pollan’s argument I would add one more reason for we people of faith. Why bother? Because God calls us to be bothered by the destruction of God’s good creation!
There is a hymn called Pass it On that I remember singing in the Methodist Church when I was a youth. The opening lyrics are, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing; That’s how it is with God’s Love, Once you’ve experienced it, You spread the love to everyone. You want to pass it on.”
That is what you and I are called to do. Ignite sparks of responsible behavior for this earth. To pass on that understanding of goodness which God pronounced on all that God had made at the end of each day of creation. To spread the knowledge of the holiness of creation; passing on the fire of God’s love for the earth and all that is in it and lives on it.
Go! Take charge and be responsible for the incredible precious gift that we have been given. And pass it on.