Cherishing the Creation
Today is the first day of spring! This is a day I always look forward to because it means that we in the northern hemisphere of the earth will enjoy many days of bright sunshine and warmth. (It is also my wedding anniversary and my mother's birthday, and so I kind of like the 20th of March!)
This morning I shall join other religious leaders at a public prayer service in downtown Tampa. We are calling attention to our need as a society to care for the creation as a sacred task. As you know, this will be the theme of our 2009 annual conference in Daytona Beach on June 11-13th; we are going to have speakers and conversation about "Transforming the World by Cherishing the Creation."
As a general superintendent, I am involved in two projects which deal with ecological stewardship. One is a message from the Council of Bishops about the interrelationship of nuclear armaments, global poverty, and environmental degradation. This is known as a new version of the 1980's project, "In Defense of Creation," but we shall develop a new name for this new project. The other project I am involved with is the new round of dialogue between Catholics and United Methodists in the United States. We have ten theologians (five Catholic and five Methodist), two ecumenical representatives (one Catholic and one Methodist) and two bishops (one Catholic and one Methodist) engaging in dialogue twice a year over a four or five year period. Our focus this time is the relationship between the Eucharist and ecological stewardship, or how the view of the universe in our Eucharistic worship of God (in our distinct traditions) enable us to understand who we humans are and how our role in the universe involves caring for the earth and cherishing the creation as a sacrament through which God's presence is given to us.
In my "spare time" I am doing regular reading in the field of the theology of ecology. As you would expect, one of the topics which always comes up is the passage in Genesis where God creates human beings and blesses them and tells them to "have dominion" over the rest of the creation (Genesis 1:28). There is now a wide agreement among scholars that we have misunderstood the meaning of "dominion." Based on the historical context of the writing of Genesis (which I will spare you) and viewing this text in the context of the rest of Scripture, etc., it is clear that "dominion" has nothing whatsoever to do with treating nature as if it were just there for human use and exploitation. "Dominion" has more to do with stewardship. God has given to human beings an extraordinary identity and role to play. We are God's royal agents who are given the responsibility to care for the rest of creation. Of course, many of us have not looked upon nature in this way. We have been shaped by our culture which has been conditioned by hundreds of years of philosophy and science (in the traditon of Bacon and Descartes) to look upon nature as a resource to exploit rather than a divine gift and the very web of created life upon which our own existence and well-being depend. And, then we read Scripture in light of these distorted cultural lens. But now we are trying to open our eyes and read Scripture in a new way that will bring life to the world and to ourselves.
Our concern for the creation is not some incidental or optional matter for Christians. It is essential to our faith because we are a people who confess that we believe in God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth.
Let us all, lay and clergy, participate in the important work of studying Scripture and the liturgy of the church as a discernment of God's promises and direction for us as we take on the task of being stewards who care for and cherish God's creation.